- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 20, 2000

CHICAGO Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush spent a breezy hour yesterday with Oprah Winfrey but teared up at one point when he talked about the birth of his twin daughters as the "defining moment" in his family.

"It was an unbelievable moment in our lives. I realized I was responsible for these little girls coming into the world," he said.

Mr. Bush and wife Laura found out she was going to have twins as they prepared to adopt children after unsuccessfully trying to start a family. He teared up as he recounted how his wife, who had become ill during the pregnancy, sternly told him: "These babies are going to be born healthy."

The Texas governor also talked about his love for his father, who he said "gave me the great gift of unconditional love, which is a fabulous gift. It's allowed me to feel I can dare to fail and dare to succeed."

Mr. Bush appeared relaxed and seemed to charm Miss Winfrey with his repeated one-liners and humorous asides. The studio audience laughed and applauded throughout, roaring at one point when Mr. Bush was asked about his favorite dream, and he held up one hand, fingers together, palm out as if taking the presidential oath of office.

"Where did your sense of humor come from your mother?" Miss Winfrey asked at one point.

Parodying Vice President Al Gore's passionate smooch with wife Tipper at the Democratic National Convention last month, Mr. Bush opened the hourlong interview by striding on stage, embracing a surprised Miss Winfrey and planting a kiss firmly on her cheek.

When Mr. Gore appeared on the show last week, he didn't give Miss Winfrey the obligatory Hollywood peck on the cheek. Pretending to be hurt, Miss Winfrey asked: "What, no kiss?"

As she did during Mr. Gore's appearance, Miss Winfrey stuck to a gentle and personal line of questioning, at one point asking a series of "What's-your-favorite …" questions.

For the record, his favorite:

• Sandwich: Peanut butter and jelly on white bread.

• Fast-food item: Taco.

• Childhood memory: Little League baseball in Midland, Texas.

• Thing he can't live without: Running. "I'm up to a 7 and 1/2-minute mile three miles a day another reason why I should be president."

There were serious moments as well on the talk show.

Mr. Bush said he was not running to avenge his father's humiliating loss to Bill Clinton in 1992.

"Basically what you are saying is, 'Are you running for revenge?' " he said after Miss Winfrey pressed the point insistently. "Revenge is such negative thought. I am running for positive reasons."

"There are better ways to uphold the honor of my family," he said.

He confessed that he always has lived in the shadow of his father, with people saying "I am running on my daddy's name."

"I understand people are going to say that," he said with a broad shrug, "but that's OK."

The only discussion of specific policies came when a woman in the audience asked how she a 25-year-old black woman fit into Mr. Bush's agenda. The woman appeared perplexed and unmoved by Mr. Bush's general statements about the American dream and educating young people. She and other audience members appeared to brighten considerably, however, when Mr. Bush mentioned his tax-cut plans.

"If you're working and paying taxes, because of the surplus I think you ought to be able to put more money in your pocket," Mr. Bush said as the woman smiled broadly and applauded.

A short while later, another audience member asked Mr. Bush how he planned to make sure the death-penalty system protects the innocent and punishes the guilty. When Mr. Bush defended the current system, Miss Winfrey pressed him and questioned the Texas system, which has executed 143 persons since Mr. Bush took office.

"I'm convinced every one of them was guilty of the crime committed and had full access to a court of law," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush made little political news, but he spoke more candidly than usual about his personal life. He said, for example, that his wife had pressed him to give up drinking, a decision he made after overindulging at a 40th birthday celebration.

"I think she got disappointed in some evenings… . There were some times she said you need to think about what you are doing," the 54-year-old said.

Mr. Bush also addressed the common charge against him that he is not bright. When Miss Winfrey said she believed voters wanted a president who is "smarter than they are," Mr. Bush said he fit that bill.

But, he said, "I am certainly not the kind of person who talks down to people because of my education … you can't inspire and lead people by thinking you're smarter than everybody else," he said.

He told a story of going to prep school in New England and being intimidated by, and struggling to keep up with, the bright students around him.

"Eventually, I realized that smarts are not only whether you write well or whether or not you do calculus," Mr. Bush said. "Smarts are also instincts and judgment and common sense… . Smarts come in all kinds of different ways."

Miss Winfrey pressed Mr. Bush repeatedly for personal stories to back up his frequent comment that he has needed forgiveness in his life. Mr. Bush dodged the questions gently several times, offering only general remarks.

"I'm looking for specifics," she chided Mr. Bush.

"I know you are, but I am running for president," Mr. Bush said, drawing a laugh from the audience and Miss Winfrey herself.

The show was interrupted at one point by a man in the audience who insistently shouted a question about a "policy of bombing and sanctions," but Miss Winfrey quickly cut off his question and had him ejected from the studio.

"In 15 years of show, we've never had a heckler," she told Mr. Bush. "You come on, and we have a heckler."

"I had to break a record somehow," Mr. Bush joked.

The Bush campaign was clearly pleased after the show. They hope the appearance will help soften Mr. Bush's image with women, who make up most of Miss Winfrey's 7 million daily viewers. Polls show Mr. Gore with a wide lead among female voters.

The Oprah appearance "was great," Bush spokesman Karen Hughes said later as Mr. Bush toured an inner-city school. "I think it offered the American people a chance to see the governor the way I see him every day see the sense of humor, see the family, see the values that shape his life."

Mr. Bush campaigns today in Pennsylvania and New York, where he will appear on the TV talk show hosted by Regis Philbin, another favorite of female viewers. He will campaign in Florida later in the week.

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