Hughes: Voice of Bush campaign is more than mouthpiece
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) -- When Karen Hughes speaks, the message is loud and clear.
The voice of George W. Bush's campaign is more than just a mouthpiece. As a sounding board and top policy adviser for six years, she has the president-elect's ear, and this was underlined on Sunday by her appointment to the position of counselor to the president.
With the title of communications director, Hughes was on the front lines and in the trenches as the Texas governor battled Democratic Vice President Al Gore for the White House in the legal and political morass that followed the disputed Nov. 7 presidential election.
The 43-year-old Texas mother, whose face and forceful manner have become a familiar sight to television viewers, was always a shoo-in for a major White House job with extraordinary access and influence.
Hughes will have the full confidence of the man she has served loyally since the start of his political career.
As Bush's 17-month official campaign for the presidency drew to a close, she reminisced about its origins.
"I date it to October 1997 to the very first press conference," Hughes said recently. "We had to call a press conference to deal with speculation that Gov. Bush would run so that it wouldn't dominate his reelection bid."
Although the son of former President George Bush had yet to complete his first term as governor of Texas and had only three years in elective office, his name already was
circulating as a good bet for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000.
He ran for reelection in 1998 and won in a landslide, the first governor of Texas to be elected to back-to-back four-year terms. On June 12, 1999, Bush formally launched his bid for the White House.
But Hughes remembered "the P-file" that held newspaper clippings and other data about a possible presidential run, a folder she had to keep in her car or at home to avoid violating laws that ban campaigning out of state offices.
She also recalled Bush's 50th birthday party in 1996 at which someone in the inner circle toasting the Texas governor mentioned aloud and publicly for the first time that he should run for U.S. president.
That person was Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas with whom Bush had forged a political and personal bond, a relationship that he cited during his presidential campaign as evidence of his ability to work across party lines.
Hughes said she wrote a limerick for Bush's birthday that began: "Enough of predictions from Lt. Gov. Bob, you already say you've got the world's best job ..." The rest she kept to herself.
A vociferous and occasionally strident advocate for her boss, Hughes initially got a mixed reception from the national media, many of whom found her an intimidating, hard-driving disciplinarian with an exceptional gift for spin.
She also weathered some barbed descriptions of her in-your-face style, imposing stature and husky voice. Newsweek magazine likened her to Nurse Ratched, the dictatorial figure who ordered the frontal lobotomy on Jack Nicholson's character in the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
At more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) tall, Hughes cuts a robust figure and, as she recovered from a bout of laryngitis days before the election, joked that reporters would be disappointed to learn she could talk again.
As the campaign wore on, it became clear her bark was much worse than her bite.
Realizing she would be separated from her 13-year-old son Robert for almost three months at the end, Hughes took him out of his Austin school and tutored him on the road.
Robert soon became a fixture on the trail, hitting the books on Bush's campaign plane, in motorcades and hotel rooms always under the watchful eye of his mother.
Hughes was spokeswoman for the Texas Republican party when Bush asked her to join his first gubernatorial campaign in 1994. Previously she had worked in several Dallas-based political posts.
After graduating from Southern Methodist University, she spent six years as a television reporter in Dallas. As the daughter of an Army Corps of Engineers general, Hughes spent much of her childhood moving from post to post. Her father ended his career as the last U.S. governor of the Panama Canal Zone.
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