- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Texas Gov. George W. Bush yesterday won the endorsement of former Republican nomination rival Steve Forbes and broadened his "reformer with results" image by announcing a $5 billion five-year plan to have every child in America reading by the third grade.

"Our economy is the envy of the world; unfortunately, our schools are not," he told an audience of Asian-American businessmen in Reston, Va., before flying to New Jersey to receive Mr. Forbes' endorsement.

A Bush aide said the education speech audience was chosen in a effort to reach out to an ethnic constituency that Mr. Bush and the Republican Party hope to win over this fall.

The Bush education plan's goal would be to identify and give special reading instruction to about 900,000 kindergarten and first-grade students throughout the country and eventually find and help those second-graders who still couldn't read.

Mr. Forbes, who dropped out of the Republican contest Feb. 10 after placing third in the Delaware primary, had declined to make an endorsement until one of the surviving Republican candidates had won enough primary delegates to assure nomination. Yesterday, the magazine publisher had warm words for Mr. Bush.

"This race is shaping up as one between the status quo, as represented by Al Gore, and a vision of some change with George W. Bush," Mr. Forbes told The Washington Times yesterday.

He said Mr. Bush "is on the right side in refusing to back down on his proposed tax cut, on Social Security in allowing people to invest part of their income in a taxfree savings account for retirement and in wanting a strong defense, as [President] Clinton and his crowd does not."

Mr. Forbes later appeared with Mr. Bush during a speech to a group of Somerset County Republicans gathered in a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.

"As the American people are learning and will learn, he is a good man," Mr. Forbes said. "He has been tested I tried to test him and he emerged the stronger for it."

Smiling and turning to Mr. Forbes, Mr. Bush lauded the publisher for his devotion to his family and ideas that have included tax cuts and the use of personal savings plans to support retirees.

"He reminds us that ideas make good politics," Mr. Bush said. "I appreciate his interjection of a lot of really good ideas."

Although Mr. Forbes attracted few voters in the Republican primaries, he has a strong following among economic and social conservatives.

Large segments in both groups said they liked his views but thought Mr. Bush would make a better candidate.

To beat Mr. Gore, Mr. Bush must keep that base enthusiastic, and Mr. Forbes might have hurt Mr. Bush had he withheld his endorsement or given it tepidly, Republican analysts said.

"Forbes' endorsement fills a bit of a void that might have been there had he not endorsed Bush," said Rep. Tom Tancredo, a conservative Colorado Republican and Bush supporter. "If Forbes had hung back, it would not have helped the cause of party unity, and the press would have seized on it as an excuse to portray Republicans as being in disarray."

New Jersey Republican Party Chairman Garabed Haytaian said that, "since Steve is from New Jersey and we are a battleground state, the Forbes endorsement might help Bush win the state in November."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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