- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush today will begin focusing on issues to convince voters that he has a coherent vision for his presidency.
Mr. Bush will abandon his habit of establishing a single weekly theme and try instead to explain to voters how his plans will affect them, aides say. This week's tour will be "a metaphor," the campaign managers said, talking to voters from a maternity ward in Little Rock, Ark., today to schools in Kentucky and Illinois at midweek, to retiree-rich communities in Florida at the end of the week.
"It's a good and creative way to tie the governor's plans together," spokesman Ray Sullivan said.
Mr. Bush released a companion 16-page booklet yesterday detailing his proposals. Aides say it will be the new centerpiece of his campaign.
"Voters can flip through and see what's in it for them," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Mr. Bush's team is concerned by Mr. Gore's continued momentum in the polls, which has been helped by a series of problems that have thrown Mr. Bush off message. In recent weeks, Mr. Bush has had to deal with flaps over his inadvertent use of crude language before an open microphone, questions about Republican advertising tactics and continuing worries about the drab campaign style of running mate Richard B. Cheney.
"We have always run a very issue-focused campaign, [but] there have been some interventions and distractions in the last two or three weeks… . Interventions and distractions inevitably come up in the course of a campaign," Mr. Fleischer said. "It happens to both candidates."
The rash of problems ebbed at the end of last week, allowing Mr. Bush to hit his campaign themes without what he called "petty distractions." Mr. Bush was also able to return to the offensive, attacking Democratic nominee Al Gore over reports that he may have tied requests for political donations to a promise of a presidential veto.
In remarks delivered Saturday to Republicans in California, Mr. Bush was careful to downplay his attacks on Mr. Gore, which have become increasingly strong, and to focus more on specific contrasts between his plans and Mr. Gore's.
"We are not just opposing the current administration. We are proposing something better. For over a year, we have been applying creative, conservative ideas to the job of helping real people," he said. "That is the meaning of compassionate conservatism."
Mr. Bush also will try to make up some public relations ground lost in the past week to Mr. Gore. The vice president got a wave of free and favorable publicity from his appearances with Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman. Mr. Bush will try the same trick with appearances this week with Miss Winfrey and morning talk-show host Regis Philbin.
On Saturday, Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, hosted a TV crew from Miss Winfrey's show at the governor's ranch in Crawford, Texas. That footage will be combined with an interview with Mr. Bush, to be taped in Chicago tomorrow, which the show will air the same day.
"It was a personal look at the Bushes," Mr. Sullivan said. "How they met, how they relate, their family relationships, what's important to them. It's quite a personal look at George W. Bush and Laura Bush as people and parents rather than as officeholders."
Mr. Sullivan said staffers for Miss Winfrey's show have been "receptive" and there were no signs the host would be harsher with Mr. Bush than she was with Mr. Gore in her gentle interview.
Although the campaign continues to put on a cheerful face, Mr. Bush seems keenly aware that he faces a difficult fight to make up ground lost in recent weeks. He appealed to California Republicans to deliver every possible vote, saying the election likely would be close.
The choice of his campaign stops this week is also revealing. Pennsylvania, where Mr. Bush will spend most of Wednesday, once appeared to be in the Bush column, but recent polls indicate a precipitous slide some showing Mr. Bush trailing by double digits while statewide Republicans such as Sen. Rick Santorum continue to do well. Florida, where Mr. Bush's Brother Jeb Bush is governor, once seemed like a lock too, but the campaign is devoting an increasing amount of time to the state.
Mr. Sullivan denied campaign advisers were surprised by the tough race in the two critical states. Both have traditionally been battlegrounds, he said.
"Just because his brother is governor [in Florida] doesn't mean we take it for granted," Mr. Sullivan said.

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