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Texas Gov. Bush unveils exploratory committee for 2000 GOP bid

March 7, 1999
Web posted at: 7:58 p.m. EST (0058 GMT)

AUSTIN, Texas (AllPolitics, March 7) -- Vowing to "set an optimistic and hopeful tone" and avoid "the petty politics of personal destruction," Texas Gov. George W. Bush officially unveiled his presidential exploratory committee Sunday afternoon.

George W. Bush
Texas Gov. George W. Bush: 'I do have a compelling reason to consider running for president'
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"I do have a compelling reason to consider running for president. I want the 21st century to be one of prosperity with a purpose," Bush said. "If America pursues limited government, low taxes, free and fair trade and free markets, our country will continue to be prosperous."

In a demonstration of the breadth of Bush's early appeal, he was flanked by the 10 members of his high-powered exploratory committee, including Michigan Gov. John Engler, Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour and four GOP House members -- Jennifer Dunn of Washington, J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, Henry Bonilla of Texas and Roy Blunt of Missouri.

Blunt said 80 GOP House members already have endorsed Bush and "our goal is to get that to a majority of the Republican members of Congress."

"There's tremendous excitement out there on the part of Republicans in Congress about a leader who can do the kinds of things in Washington that you've already done with such success right here in Texas," Blunt said.

Bonilla called Bush "the best governor Texas has ever had."

"I'm excited to be on a team on the way to introducing him to the entire country. We in Texas know that you'll be every bit as impressed with him as we are," Bonilla said.

'Compassionate conservatism'

Questioned by reporters, Bush, 52, the son of former President George Bush, declined to take specific positions on a number of national issues, saying he would outline his platform in more detail once he begins formally campaigning across the country in June.

He outlined a basic philosophy of lowering taxes, reducing the reach of government and promoting "compassionate" conservatism.

"It's conservative to cut taxes. It's compassionate to give people more money to spend. It's conservative to insist upon local control of schools and set high standards and insist upon results. It is compassionate to make sure that not one single child gets left behind," he said.

However, Bush was willing to wade into the minefield of abortion politics, saying he thinks the Republican Party "ought to maintain its pro-life tenor." But he noted that he did not ask the members of his exploratory committee for their views on abortion before appointing them.

"My attitude is our party is big enough for good people to be able to disagree on the issue. But surely we can agree that there are too many abortions in America," Bush said, offering support for a ban on partial-birth abortions and a parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions.

Bush also said the GOP has done a "poor job" in attracting Hispanic voters -- something he's been able to do in Texas -- and he took a direct swipe at supporters of "English only" measures.

"What that says to many people in my state ... is 'me, not you,'" Bush said. "What I'm for is English-plus ... People must learn to read and write in English if they're going to be free in America, plus we respect your heritage."

A Bush of a different type

Bush also sought to distance himself somewhat from the political legacy of his father, noting that he has a record of his own as governor of Texas.

"I'm a little different. I want to Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas. He went to Greenwich County Day in Connecticut," Bush said. "I inherited half his friends and all his enemies. I'm trying to work on the other half of his friends and peel off a few of his enemies.

"America, should I choose to run, will know it's George W. Bush who's going to be the president," he said, adding that he thinks it would be "a huge mistake" for his rivals to criticize the elder Bush.

"He's not the candidate," Bush said. "I am."

While establishing an exploratory committee is a step short of actually declaring a presidential candidacy, Bush indicated that he is serious about entering the race. Asked what might cause him to change his mind, he said he might decide not to run "if we got out there and just heard a loud thud."

He also said he was "amazed" that he currently leads all of his potential GOP rivals in the polls.


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Sunday, March 7, 1999

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