- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

PHILADELPHIA — George W. Bush's presidential nomination acceptance speech last night was aimed not at the party faithful inside the convention hall but at the millions of independent voters and centrist Democrats he needs to coax into the Republican column in November.
His emphasis on improving education and reforming Social Security, advisers said, appeals to independents, who make up 27 percent of the electorate and sway elections.
Those two issues have long been used for electoral advantage by Democrats.
"Now is the time for Republicans and Democrats to end the politics of fear and save Social Security, together," Mr. Bush said.
In trying to seize this middle ground of voters, Mr. Bush pledged "to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity."
"We will give low-income Americans tax credits to buy the private health insurance they need and deserve," he said. "We will transform today's housing rental program to help hundreds of thousands of low-income families find stability and dignity in a home of their own."
And he lay down this challenge to Democrats: "We are now the party of ideas and innovation … the party of idealism and inclusion."
The strategy has succeeded, according to a survey by independent pollster John Zogby, who found Mr. Bush has attracted in independents, swing voters, women and Hispanics with his message during the Republican National Convention.
A new bipartisan poll found Mr. Bush leads 48-30 percent among independents, and is leading among Hispanic and Catholic voters.
By showing that he cares about these social issues, said Bush senior adviser Ari Fleischer, the Republican nominee demonstrated that he "is the leader who can bring people together. We want people to say [on Election Day], 'Governor Bush will change the tone in Washington. He has a record of working with Democrats.' "
Mr. Bush's positive and hopeful tone was not crafted for prime time. It's a theme of optimism that he has repeated continuously on the campaign trail.
"He's winning [in public opinion polls] because he's communicating to Americans his hopes and aspirations for America," said Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III. "That includes education and tax cuts. He will continue to discuss the fact that they have universal appeal to all people. That's why he's so far ahead in the polls."
Mr. Bush also sought in his speech to criticize the Clinton-Gore administration without being overly harsh, which might alienate non-Republicans.
He spoke of restoring honor and integrity to the White House, but avoided repeating his sharpest barb from the campaign trail: that America needs a president who understands what the meaning of "is" is. That's a reference to Mr. Clinton's evasive testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case that led to his impeachment.
"I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years," Mr. Bush said last night. "I want to change the tone of Washington to one of civility and respect."
Even before last night's speech, which likely will give Mr. Bush an extra "bounce," the Republican nominee had opened up a 13-point lead nationwide over Vice President Al Gore, 49 percent to 36 percent.
One facet of Mr. Bush's public appearances seems to have died a quiet death, observed Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona: There is no more talk about a smirk.
"Style takes care of itself, and he is his own style," Mr. Kyl said. "He's a very genuine person. He's never going to memorize as many arcane statistics as Al Gore. What you see is what you get. He's got a heavy dose of his mother and his father in him, and you can't do much better than that."
Mr. Kyl said Mr. Bush convinced the public in the weeks leading up to the convention, through positive campaigning and insisting that convention organizers refrain from attacking Democrats, that he is prepared to lead the nation, and that last night's speech was the time to lay out his plan in more detail.
"Newt Gingrich had a saying: 'People don't care how much you know until they know you care,' " Mr. Kyl said. "I think Governor Bush rightly concluded that the American people weren't ready to hear his message until they knew he cared."
Republican pollster Kellyanne Fitzpatrick agreed that the tone of the speech, striking a balance between "being serious about being president and yet having fun," was designed to capitalize on Mr. Bush's affable personality. She said that gives Mr. Bush an edge with voters.
"Al Gore is perceived as a finger-pointer," Miss Fitzpatrick said.
And she said that Mr. Bush's references to the environment in the speech will likely appeal to independent voters also.
"Bob Dole talked for 74 minutes in 1996 [in accepting the nomination] and never mentioned the word 'environment' once," she said.

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