- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2000

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. The women in George W. Bush's life yesterday hit the campaign trail with 20 days left until Election Day, adding a little feminine vavoom to the presidential race.
A day after the third and final debate, Mr. Bush's girls headed to the heartland to kick off a six-city bus tour in the battleground states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
His wife, Laura, joined forces with Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Republican running mate Richard B. Cheney, and Bush national security adviser Condoleeza Rice for what is being billed as the "W Stands for Women" tour. Also along for yesterday's Michigan tour were Michelle Engler, wife of Gov. John Engler, and Jane Abraham, wife of Sen. Spencer Abraham.
While the girls-only gaggle drew moms, children, working women and a few retirees, the star of the stump was the governor's mother, Barbara, making her first high-profile appearance of the campaign.
Mrs. Bush, wearing her trademark four-strand pearls, drew the loudest and longest cheers as she took the stage of the Van Andel Museum Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., to tell a crowd of about 300 why her oldest son would make a fine president who would restore dignity to the White House.
The former first lady said it was the "right time" for Mr. Bush to become president.
"I find it hard to talk about women's issues," Mrs. Bush said. "Women care about exactly the same thing men care about," she told the crowd, calling women the most powerful political group in the nation.
Barbara Bush's remarks, like those of the other women who graced the stage, touched on education, values, family and credibility. Although well received, they were delivered to voters who have clearly made up their minds.
The former first lady's public appeal is undeniable. Everywhere she went, necks craned, cameras flashed and television crews muscled to get a shot of the white-haired first lady known in the Bush White House as "the Silver Fox."
Her son was clearly pleased to have his mother on the campaign trial.
"It's about time she got out there campaigning for her boy," the Texas governor told a rally in LaCrosse, Wis. "But don't you tell her I said that."
The decision for the women's tour was made about two weeks ago, said Bush campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker, who said she was not certain how long Barbara Bush who has undergone two back surgeries in the past year will stay on the road.
Mrs. Bush herself answered that question at a Lansing, Mich., youth science center, where she joined children in a demonstration of exhibits.
"I'm 75," she scolded a reporter. "I think he's going to win, and he's probably going to win without his mother."
Despite her popularity, Mrs. Bush took care not to upstage her daughter-in-law, who did not seem to mind surrendering the stage. Both showed up dressed nearly identically, clad in softly cut royal blue suits. They praised each other as former and would-be first lady.
Once inside the Lansing science center, Laura Bush told reporters she was satisfied by her husband's debate performance. Although they were nerve-racking, she said, the public forums provide a valuable opportunity for voters to see the candidates' differences.
"George is doing better with women since the debates," Laura Bush said, deflecting a reporter's suggestion that her husband's pro-life stance is a liability. "There are a lot of other issues that women care about, including Social Security, Medicare, education and elder care."
Nancy Washburne and Joy Adcock, friends and loyal Republicans, came to the Lansing event to cheer on the Bush women. They were not sure how many undecided voters the tour would persuade, but they liked it.
"It energizes people," Mrs. Washburne said.
Said Mrs. Adcock: "It's very important that these women are visible and that people know they are alive and well. I think women should be comforted by the fact that they are doing their bit on the campaign."
At a late afternoon rally in the idyllic town of Brighton, the Bush women spoke briefly on a stage built on bales of hay. They later strolled the streets, stopping to pose with shopkeepers and to sign autographs.
Laura Bush held court with a group of Girl Scouts and later visited the Great West Bread Co. There, amid the yeasty aroma of freshly baked bread, Barbara Bush seemed right at home, quipping to the owners and the crowd, "We gotta get out of here or we're gonna gain some weight."
That didn't stop her from sampling a slice of pumpkin walnut swirl bread.
The bus tour continued through Michigan before the ladies flew to Philadelphia last night. Visits to a cancer center and a community college are among the stops planned in Pennsylvania today.
The tour resumes Monday with Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain, joining the trip.

Dave Boyer, in LaCrosse, Wis., contributed to this report.

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