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Networks image Talking baseball and politics with George W. Bush

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 11:59 a.m. EDT (1559 GMT) SACRAMENTO, California (LOS ANGELES TIMES) -- It was late in the day and Texas Gov. George W. Bush looked, well, bushed.

An hour earlier, he had been sitting on the state Capitol steps in 92-degree heat during tedious, drawn-out opening ceremonies of a U.S.-Mexico border governors conference. Then he'd weathered three live TV interviews.

Now, he was being led into a vacant bar on the 16th floor of a Holiday Inn to chat with some state political columnist.

He looked at me like, who'n hell are you?; weakly smiled and sprawled in a big chair.

Such is the plight of a presidential candidate.

I figured this was a good time to ask the question foremost on my mind: Why'd he ever trade Sammy Sosa when he was managing partner of the Texas Rangers?

Bush came to life, chuckling. He quickly named all the players involved, even though it was 11 years ago. The Rangers' main acquisition from the Chicago White Sox was veteran slugger Harold Baines. Texas gave up infielder Scott Fletcher and tossed in two "prospects," including the 20-year-old Sosa.

"He'd just come up [to the big leagues] and gotten a quick look," Bush recalled painfully. In 25 games, Sosa was batting a meager .238. Who could have predicted then that the Dominican native would become a superstar, slamming 66 homers for the Chicago Cubs in 1998 and dramatically dueling the St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire for the all-time season home run record? (McGwire hit 70.)

Manager Bobby Valentine and General Manager Tom Grieve recommended the deal and he approved it, Bush remembered. "We were coming down the stretch, chasing Oakland. We were either going to kick in and stay or fade."

The Rangers faded. Oakland won the pennant and the World Series. "It just didn't work out. Harold, he just didn't kick in."

This is the fun stuff to talk about, I noted.

"Politics is not not fun," Bush instantly replied.

So we talked about what we were supposed to: the race in California between Bush and Vice President Al Gore, particularly the Republican candidate's vulnerabilities. The latest private polls show Gore with a small lead, but Bush moving up.

How can he carry California with his abortion position? I asked. Bush opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life. Voters here strongly favor broad abortion rights. Indeed, in the 1990s, no top-of-the-ticket candidate won in California who was not "pro choice."

The short answer: He'll try to seem nonthreatening, respecting others' views without backing off his long-held "pro-life" position. He previously had said he would not demand that his Supreme Court nominees be anti-abortion.

It's even conceivable he'll choose a running mate who supports abortion rights, Bush said, volunteering that "my friend" Gov. Thomas J. Ridge of Pennsylvania will be "seriously considered."

"I'm going to talk about the culture of life," he continued. "I've set the goal that every child born and unborn ought to be protected. . . . But I recognize people in California--people in Texas-- don't necessarily agree with the goal. ...

"People appreciate somebody who sets a tone, a tone that values life, but recognizes that people disagree."

He pointed out that those gun-toting killers at Columbine High School did not value life; they "devalued" it.

And this naturally raised another issue where Californians disagree with Bush. They strongly favor gun control. He doesn't. Gov. Bush even signed a bill allowing Texans to carry concealed weapons. But a President Bush wouldn't do that to this state, he pledged.

"I don't believe the federal government ought to mandate to California what they do about gun laws."

Bush thinks he has a "good shot" at Latino voters, especially the 600,000 small business owners. He won 49% of the Texas Latino vote in his 1998 reelection. But since Proposition 187--the GOP's anti-illegal immigration initiative of 1994--no major Republican candidate in California has attracted more than 24% of Latinos. Democrats scoff at Bush for even trying.

"They're trying to scare me out of here," he accurately observed. "Forget it, I'm coming. I'm going to campaign hard."

President Clinton carried California in the last two elections, but he's not running this time, Bush noted. "This business goes in cycles. It wasn't all that long ago that a George H. W. Bush beat Michael Dukakis pretty handily in this state."

Actually, it was by only 3.5%. But the point is valid. Every ballgame's different. And predicting the November election now is like foreseeing Sammy Sosa's future back when.

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


Monday, June 5, 2000



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