Lamar Alexander kicks off second White House run
By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics
March 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (March 9) -- Promising better schools, tax breaks and a stronger military, former Tennesee Gov. Lamar Alexander officially launched his candidacy Tuesday for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, his second bid for the White House.
"I am ready to help our country face the challenges of a new century and to make the right choices," Alexander told the crowd gathered in the old State Supreme Court chamber in Nashville. "This election will be about the character of the nation and its institutions. This election will be about restoring respect for the presidency."
During his 25-minute speech Alexander said he will build his 2000 campaign around three issues: "Raising family incomes by lowering taxes and securing Social Security" and "strengthening national defense, especially against terrorists."
"Fixing public education" is the third and top priority of the platform. It's the area Alexander says "I care about the most and know the most about," as a former governor, university president and education secretary under President George Bush.
Alexander's formal announcement came as no surprise, as he has never really stopped running since withdrawing from the 1996 campaign early on in the primary season. Still, he trails Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole in the latest CNN polls.
He urged Republicans to keep an open mind, though. "This time the race is wide open," he said. "There is no one whose 'turn' it is."
The Alexander operation is well organized, and the former governor has already logged considerable time in the critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire. He says the experience of his failed 1996 bid and the work he has put in since then will help him win in 2000.
While enthusiastic supporters at the announcment waved red "Alexander for President" signs during the event, the presidential candidate has abandoned his trademark red-and-black plaid shirt this time around in favor of a dark business suit.
In addition to the Alexander family, Republican Govs. Don Sundquist of Tennessee and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas were on hand to endorse Alexander. Former four-term Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who is Alexander's national chairman, predicted that their campaign could win in the Iowa caucus.
"I hope that what people think of me when they think of Lamar Alexander is better schools and the best parents. We need to transform our public education system," Alexander told AllPolitics Monday.
He favors deregulating schools "to give teachers more freedom and principals more freedom," ending teacher tenure and offering HOPE scholarships to allow parents to choose the school their child attends.
"Above all, from my first day in office until my last I will be a president on the side of parents raising children," he said during his announcement speech. Alexander and his wife, Honey, are the father of four -- Drew, Kathryn, Leslee and Will.
Because of his experience, Alexander says he is the best qualified of all the candidates expected to run for the GOP nomination. He said he can take on Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, on "the education issue -- which is the issue Democrats have beaten Republicans into the ground on year after year."
In his announcement speech, Alexander focused his criticism on the "wizard Clinton and his faithful assistant Gore," rather than his likely Republican opponents.
"While it is true that the peace and prosperity that they inherited is still with us, what of the future? Just look behind the screen of their magic show and see what is really happening in the last six years since they took over," Alexander said.
"In just those six years, 12 countries have jumped over ours in high school graduation rates. Our taxes are high. Our federal regulation book is thicker. Our military defense is weaker. It is harder than ever for parents to raise children," he said.
Alexander joins what is expected to be a crowded GOP field, most of the hopefuls overshadowed by Bush and Dole.
But Alexander insists his candidacy will stand out because it is the best organized and he will be the "first Republican candidate to emphasize education so strongly and to emphasize helping parents raise children."
He rejects the notion that Bush, who is considered the leader of the GOP pack, or any other Repubublican already has the nomination sewn up. He says the key to the front-loaded primary season will be Iowa and New Hampshire.
Alexander plans to win "by presenting my message, offering a message about the future instead of the familiar, and doing well enough in Iowa and New Hampshire to also move into the March 7 primary in a strong and winning way."
He also plans to win by raising money. He says he has a strong fund-raising base and that his campaign's goal "for 1999 is about $15 million. The most that has ever been raised in any presidential race, in the year before the election, is $20 million. So raising $15 million would be a substantial achievement."
In 1996, Alexander's best showings were his third-place finishes in both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. He dropped out shortly afterwards.
Alexander will next hit the campaign trail with a weeklong trip around the country. He will return to his hometown of Maryville next Monday to talk with students at his old high school.
He will also join AllPolitics for an online chat at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday.
Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire and conservative commentator Pat Buchanan have announced their candidacies and multimillionaire publisher Steve Forbes is expected to do the same next week.
Bush announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee on Sunday. His closest challenger in the latest CNN polls, former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, will announce her committee Wednesday.
Other hopefuls who have also taken an initial step towards running by forming exploratory committees are Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, conservative activist Gary Bauer and former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Tuesday, March 9, 1999
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Transcript: Alexander announces 2000 presidential candidacy
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