- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2000

JUNEAU, Alaska.
To clear the head before the political party conventions, reporters, pundits and commentators are advised to go beyond the Beltway. I took the advice seriously. I was invited by several conservative organizations to join an Alaskan cruise to watch salmon run and glaciers melt. This is way beyond the Beltway.
As you might expect the natives have considerably more on their minds than whether George W. or Al Gore will win in November. Many may care, but not yet. They're fishing for salmon, hunting wild birds, and trying to keep the brown bears from knocking over their trash cans.
But nothing was more on the minds of my conservative friends aboard the MS Volendam than next election Nov. 8. These were men and women from all over the country, from California to New York; from Pell City, Ala., to Poland, Ohio; from Metairie, LA., to Harbor, Ore.; and lots of places in between.
These are voters who treasure the Second Amendment as well as the First, along with the National Rifle Association; who support the Young America's Foundation and the Freedom Alliance and who read Human Events, the national conservative political weekly. They have lots of differences over specific policies, but a common purpose unites them. They want to win back the White House. So in between looking for bald eagles and killer whales, red squirrels and gold nuggets, they're discussing the media spin (bad), George W.'s compassionate conservatism (not too bad), Al Gore's earth tones (ineffective), Al Gore's debating skills (effective).
Conservatives are a lot like Jews, they agree on many things in general, but put a dozen of them in a room together and you'll get 15 different nonnegotiable opinions. But if these folks and dolls are representative of conservatives who will vote in November, there's more to unite the right than divide it.
Clinton fatigue has energized everyone. These conservatives are armed for battle by emphasizing common goals rather than specific policy disagreements. I haven't even heard anyone snickering over Mr. Bush's overuse of the word compassion, though it's a little soft and soggy for most conservatives. But what struck me and came as a surprise these tough-minded conservatives really like George W. even though they don't embrace his move toward the center since the primaries.
What is driving Democrats up the wall is that George W. is likeable and Al Gore is not. Despite liberal spinning in the press and on the tube, George W. is making fast friends on the campaign trail in the way that Ronald Reagan did. He's instinctively a down-to-earth kind of guy, who tells a good personal story and doesn't pretend to know something when he doesn't. Conservatives especially trust his instincts, if not all of his policy ideas.
As Kelly Anne Fitzpatrick discovered in one of her polls, George W. is the guy most men and women want to see remaining at the end of the television show, "Survivor." She discovered that Hillary and Bill would be kicked off the island in an early episode and Al Gore would be gone only a little later.
There's been lots of talk about the vice president among my shipmates and nearly everybody thinks he'll make a formidable candidate and the race will be close. But they're puzzled over how Al Gore has quickly become a man not to like. A magazine cover depicts Al Gore with a sinister vampire tooth overlapping his left lip. It's not a flattering picture, and this is not the cover of National Review but Atlantic Monthly.
Mr. Bush's secret weapon may indeed be Al Gore's meanness and ruthlessness, saying and doing and wearing anything he thinks it takes to win. The conventional wisdom is that Mr. Gore will cream Mr. Bush in a debate, but not everybody agrees. When the vice president starts to needle the governor, suggests one of my shipmates, the Republican candidate ought to tell him to "stop trying to get under my skin and stick to the issues."
These conservatives know that there's a new voting bloc that's emerged since Mr. Clinton entered office investors in the stock market and users of the Internet. A full 63 percent of voting households own stock directly or indirectly in pension plans and retirement funds. These voters cut across the so-called gender gap and parochial minority politics. They have reasons to want a conservative to guide the economy and to restore moral character to the White House.
At least that's how it looks from the bridge of the MS Volendam, as we sail past glaciers, watch the salmon run and look for killer whales.

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