Tuesday, August 31, 2004

NEW YORK — Twins Jenna and Barbara Bush, said to be the president’s aces in the hole on sewing up the youth vote, have been the most elusive of all the celebrities and politicians at the Republican convention.

Still, the Republican bash is functioning as a coming-out party for the 22-year-olds, who are putting in appearances at several events, such as yesterday’s “W Stands for Women” rally that drew 1,000 women to the Waldorf Astoria ballroom.

As the president’s sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, and mother, Barbara Bush, spoke, the two young women, dressed informally in slacks, high heels, dark brown or black tops and a sweater (Barbara) or blazer (Jenna), applauded on cue, if a bit mechanically.

Their aunt and grandmother were clear as to what is expected. The president and first lady Laura Bush, Mrs. Koch said, are “lucky to have two daughters who can reach out to a whole generation of women.”

The daughters and their mother were repeatedly referred to by speakers as “strong women” and their grandmother said the duo did well during a recent visit to Greece for the Olympics.

“I kept telling them to stand up straight and keep their hair out of their eyes,” Barbara Bush said. “They were a huge hit in Greece. George and I were a bit concerned when the entire [American] wrestling team wanted to date them.”

Unlike the Kerry daughters, who introduced their stepmother, Teresa Heinz Kerry, at the Democratic National Convention last month in Boston, neither of the Bush girls will make a formal speech from the floor of Madison Square Garden.

Today, they will introduce their mother at a “Tribute to First Lady Laura Bush” lunch hosted by the National Federation of Republican Women. They will be at Madison Square Garden for first lady Laura Bush’s prime-time speech later tonight.

Tomorrow morning, they will reappear at Madison Square Garden to introduce White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. at an event for 2,500 young Republicans featuring elected officials and Hollywood celebrities.

After listening to their father’s acceptance speech Thursday night, they will head for a “Next Generation Convention Party” at Gotham Hall in Manhattan with Emma Bloomberg, daughter of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Emily Pataki, daughter of New York Gov. George E. Pataki.

It hasn’t been all roses for political debutantes this election year. Sunday night, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry’s daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, were booed by a crowd when they appeared at MTV’s Video Music Awards ceremony in Miami. There were also boos for a pre-recorded video by the Bush daughters aired at the MTV event.

The twins got a better reception Sunday at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, where they arrived to a wild scrum of photographers for a late-night “R: The Party” reception to kick off the convention’s first big celebrity bash.

“Jenna! Barbara!” dozens of photographers shouted as the pair, both dressed in faded jeans, tops and high heels, stood uncomfortably near the entrance of the trendy club. The presidential daughters smiled briefly, then disappeared inside.

Neither said a word, and the press was barred from taking photographs at the swank event, a tacit acknowledgment that the Bush-Cheney campaign does not want a repeat of the embarrassing photographs of Jenna dancing on a New York nightclub table, which were splashed across tabloid front pages earlier this year.

Jenna also got a tongue-lashing from her mother last month after she playfully stuck out her tongue at White House press — a gesture quickly captured by photographers.

“I think I had a little girl who stuck her tongue out at the press last week,” Mrs. Bush said after the incident. “I shouldn’t have brought it up, but it happens.” She added that she had given her rambunctious daughter some advice: “Maybe you should work on your issues of impulsiveness or something.”

The Bush daughters say they have no doubt about the secret of their father’s success: their mom.

“I think if he had never met my mom, there’s no way he could have been as successful as he is, just because she is so stable and so supportive … and so giving,” Jenna said in an interview segment — taped for the A&E cable channel’s “Biography” series — aired yesterday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I mean, she travels and works for him … but she would never think not to, you know,” Jenna said. “They just have a pretty unconditional love.”

The Bush-Cheney campaign is employing the women, both of whom just graduated from college — Barbara from Yale, Jenna from the University of Texas — to appeal to young Republicans and moderates. Last week, the daughters sent out an e-mail through the Bush-Cheney campaign urging other young people to vote for their dad.

“Our Dad has qualities that are needed in a good president — loyalty, humor (embarrassing as it sometimes may be), compassion and, most importantly, integrity,” the twins said in the e-mail. “You should also know that we would be voting for our Dad in this election even if he had not raised us, loved us, coached us, and even listened to a few excuses from us for late curfews.”

The e-mail continued: “We have been privileged to know our president personally and we know he is the right person to lead our country — especially when there are so many important issues at stake.”

Targeting young voters — nearly all of whom are Democrats — the girls said: “We just graduated from college and are perfectly aware that schoolwork, parties and extracurricular activities keep students busy, away from campaigns and voting booths.”

They close with one last pitch: “This is a really important election and we know that with your help our Dad will win in November.”

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