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Networks image Bush, McCain attempt at mending fences hits snag

April 28, 2000
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EDT (1611 GMT)

LA TimesGREENSBORO, North Carolina (Los Angeles Times) -- Even as George W. Bush continued reaching out to Democrats on Thursday, he faced new frictions from a familiar source within his own party.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Bush's chief rival in the Republican presidential primaries, threatened to cancel their scheduled reconciliation meeting in Pittsburgh next month.

McCain was angered by publicity surrounding the meeting and, specifically, the chance Bush might broach the subject of the vice presidency. While the Texas governor insists he is nowhere close to picking a running mate, McCain has been equally adamant in ruling out a Bush-McCain ticket.

The McCain camp also was upset that Charles Wyly, the Texas entrepreneur who, with his brother Sam, paid for ads attacking McCain in the GOP primaries, was given a prominent role at a Republican fund-raising gala that Bush headlined Wednesday night in Washington.

Representatives of Bush and McCain had previously scheduled a planning session today to talk about what the two candidates would discuss May 9. Now, however, John Weaver, a senior advisor to McCain, says, "It's tenuous at this time" whether a Bush-McCain summit will take place at all.

Weaver said that he and Joe Allbaugh, manager of the Bush campaign, will discuss today whether the May session can be salvaged. McCain aides raised several distinct objections to the early discussions with Bush.

"First, any discussion leading up to the meeting should be private, and to date that has not happened," Weaver said. "Secondly, we don't feel that a meeting that is limited to rehashing the differences on campaign finance reform and discussion of the possibility of the vice presidency, given John's views about that, would be a substantive meeting."

For their part, officials in the Bush camp responded with equanimity, even though they were caught off guard by McCain's threatened pullout. The senator is traveling this week in Vietnam but conveyed his concerns to Weaver and others.

"We expect the [May 9] meeting will take place as scheduled," said Scott McClellan, a Bush spokesman. "Gov. Bush said all along he looks forward to talking with Sen. McCain about how they can work together with the reforms they agree upon. The governor expects they will have a substantive discussion of the issues."

For all the surface niceties, however, there remains a deep enmity between the two Republican camps, a carry-over from the bitterly fought GOP primaries.

The flap Thursday only served to distract from Bush's efforts to continue his weeklong emphasis on bipartisanship. He continued that quest by traveling to a conference in Greensboro, N.C., where he praised the education record of the state's governor, Democrat James B. Hunt Jr.

At Wednesday's Republican dinner, Bush had said he would seek to increase cooperation with Democrats in Washington; in his remarks Thursday, he gave Texas Democrats some of the credit for the state education reforms that he relentlessly touts on the campaign trail.

"As governor, I've worked closely with both Republicans and Democrats, and had it not been for cooperative Democrats in our Legislature we wouldn't have gotten what we've gotten done," Bush told a large group of North Carolina educators discussing ways to improve academic performance among minority and low-income children.

To reinforce the point, Bush was accompanied by Texas attorney Sandy Kress, a former Dallas County Democratic Party chairman who has been active in the state's educational reform efforts. Kress endorsed Bush, calling his educational reform proposals superior to Gore's: "I think he [Bush] will walk the last mile on accountability, and I don't think his opponent will," Kress said.

In his speech, Bush stressed his familiar themes of devolving greater control of federal education dollars to the states, while pressing states to toughen their systems to hold schools accountable for student performance--an approach he contrasted with his party's recent educational priorities.

"We're going to have a little different tone in Washington," Bush said. "I'm not interested in shutting down the Department of Education; I am interested in transforming it. . . . I'm interested in spending more money on schools, but we must expect better results from our schools."

Bush received a respectful but unenthusiastic response from his audience of teachers and other educators, groups that often lean Democratic. "He has to observe education on a ground level instead of a political level," said Charles Hayes, an assistant high school principal in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

Speaking with reporters, Bush also disclosed that he had met Wednesday in Washington with Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, whose union has conspicuously refused to endorse Gore. "I did ask for his union's endorsement and he said he hadn't made up his mind yet, and I took that as the beginnings of a good sign," Bush said.

Brownstein reported from Greensboro, N.C., and Barabak from Los Angeles.

Associated Press news material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.


Friday, April 28, 2000



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