- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas Gov. George W. Bush embarks Friday on a six-state tour across a pivotal area of middle America, hoping to build momentum and media coverage before his arrival Wednesday at the Republican National Convention.
In a sign that he won't concede any traditionally Democratic states or issues, Mr. Bush's first stop on his journey to end the Clinton-Gore era will be in President Clinton's back yard.
At Springdale, Ark., in a Republican section of the state, Mr. Bush will tour a faith-based family outreach center and speak at the local high school.
"We are looking forward to spending time with the voters in these key battleground states before heading into the Republican National Convention," Mr. Bush said in a statement Thursday from the governor's mansion, where he was rehearsing his speech accepting the party's presidential nomination.
He will be joined Friday by running mate Richard B. Cheney, the former defense secretary, who then will leave the campaign to prepare for his own acceptance speech on Wednesday night at the convention.
Mr. Bush took time out from fine-tuning his speech Thursday to defend Mr. Cheney's voting record in the House in the 1980s. Vice President Al Gore and other Democrats have labeled Mr. Cheney's record as "extremist" for supporting gun owners and voting against the Equal Rights Amendment.
Referring to Mr. Cheney's Pentagon service during the 1991 Gulf War under his father, former President George Bush, the Texas governor told reporters: "Secretary Cheney brought people together and helped win a war, which stands in stark contrast to Vice President Gore, who tends to divide people to create political war."
Mr. Bush added that Mr. Cheney's critics are "doing their level best to tear people down but they're not going to succeed."
From Arkansas, where Mr. Bush has turned the Clinton-Gore ticket's 17-point win in 1996 into a six-point poll lead for himself, the Bush campaign will visit Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
"Real America is not in Washington," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, co-chairman of the Republican convention. "That's who [Mr. Bush] needs to appeal to the Americans out there in the hinterlands. And he's been very mindful of that."
As for the convention speech, Bush senior adviser Ari Fleischer would not divulge Thursday whether Mr. Bush plans any surprises.
"The speech will follow the same spirit and tone of the governor's campaign saving Social Security, rebuilding the military, improving education," Mr. Fleischer said, adding that Mr. Bush "absolutely" views his Thursday night address as the most important of his political career.
"This [acceptance speech] is a moment when more Americans will be focused on this race than any time to date," he said. "The governor welcomes that."
RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson said, "You'll hear a real emphasis on education and helping America's children. You'll hear an emphasis on saving and securing America's retirement system … and his commitment to lightening the tax burden on working Americans."
Mr. Bush said recently of the four-day convention, "The next president needs to lift the spirits of the country, and our convention is going to set that tone."
The convention, and especially the speech, are Mr. Bush's best chance yet to win over swing voters. Bush confidants say they're not worried about whether he will deliver on the biggest stage of his life. They say Mr. Bush, in fact, excels under pressure.
"Every time there's been a big moment in the campaign, he's stepped up to the plate and done well," said Bush adviser Charles Black.
Mary Matalin, CNN political analyst and a longtime Bush family friend, said the governor "just has to be Bush" in his convention speech.
"It has to come from the heart," Mrs. Matalin said, who called Mr. Bush "the real deal."
Even if Mr. Bush's speech and the convention itself are well-received, Republican officials are braced for Vice President Al Gore to earn a bigger "bounce" in the polls from the Democratic convention in Los Angeles two weeks later, and for the candidates to be essentially tied in the polls by Labor Day.
"They'll get a bounce out of their convention because their party is not as united as ours," Mr. Nicholson said. "The base of our party has become very united."

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