Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Bush to Ohio: Help nail down nomination


Wants to end rival McCain's upstart effort

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Gov. Bob Taft and state Treasurer Joe Deters applaud George W. Bush Tuesday night at Memorial Hall.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        George W. Bush, pumped up over beating John McCain in the Virginia primary, told a crowd of party faithful in Cincinnati they could help him “nail down” the GOP nomination with a win in next Tuesday's Ohio primary.

        “Tonight we are one step closer to victory, one step closer to uniting our party,” Mr. Bush told an enthusiastic group of about 700 party activists jammed into Cincinnati's Me morial Hall.

        The Texas governor, in the last stop of a three-city Ohio tour Tuesday, said that Ohio voters can “send a signal that this nation is ready for new leadership after an age of cynicism.”

        Mr. Bush also notched wins Tuesday in the Washington primary and the North Dakota caucuses.

        Ohio is the third largest of 11 states holding primaries next Tuesday. The Bush campaign is hoping that a sweep of the largest states — including California and New York — will put to an end the upstart campaign of Mr. McCain, who drew large, enthusiastic crowds here four days ago in his own three- city Ohio tour.

        Mr. Bush, in his brief Cincinnati stop Tuesday, latched onto the controversy Mr. McCain started Monday when he lashed out at two Virginia-based Christian conservatives, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, accusing them of “religious intolerance.”

        “Tonight in an open primary in Virginia — by a margin of 15 or 16 points — the voters of that state rejected the politics of pitting one religion against another,” Mr. Bush said.

        In the past week, the Texas governor has had his own religious problem to deal with — the backlash from his visit last month to Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones III, the head of the school, has made numerous anti-Catholic remarks and has said Catholics are members of a cult.

        With a growing controversy over Mr. Bush's association with the ultra-conservative school, Mr. Bush sent a letter to Cardinal John O'Connor, who represents 2.4 million Catholics in the New York archdiocese, saying he should have denounced Mr. Jones' views when he visited the school.

        Tuesday, while warming up the Memorial Hall audience before Mr. Bush and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft arrived, Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, calling himself an “old altar boy,” made it clear it was no accident that a Catholic priest from Dayton was invited to deliver a prayer to open the Bush rally.

        The crowd at Memorial Hall was made up mostly of employees of Republican elected officials in Hamilton County, along with county precinct executives and their families and contingents of party regulars from several other southwest Ohio counties.

        Only those with tickets were allowed into the hall to see Mr. Bush, and the tickets were parceled out by the Hamilton County Republican Party.

        Meanwhile, outside Memorial Hall, Bush supporters without tickets were left standing on the sidewalk.

        “I'm kind of disappointed,” said Gregory S. Hayes, 21, of East Walnut Hills, who was dressed in a sport coat and tie. “I thought they would let everyone in. We stopped by and saw McCain on Saturday.”

        The ticketed crowd — just enough to fill the 19th century theater — was entertained by a parade of politician introductions and a monologue from radio talk show host Bill Cunningham, who pointed out that he is “a Catholic for Bush.”

        Stan Purdy, a lawyer from Georgetown who had a ticket for the event, said he supports Mr. Bush “because he has apparent leadership skills. At least, there is the perception that he has leadership skills.”

        “He's been a leader in Texas; he can bring people into the party,” Mr. Purdy said. “He has been the governor of a state that, if it were a country, would be the 11th biggest country in the world. That's experience.”

        In his speech, Mr. Bush lumped Mr. McCain with Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, as two politicians who “wrap their ideas in class warfare.”

        “If the two of them were the nominees, they would be more like a ticket than adversaries,” Mr. Bush said.

        Mr. Bush touted his record as Texas governor on education issues, saying Mr. McCain “has been sitting on the sidelines for 17 years” on education issues in the U.S. Senate.

        Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush toured a religious family center in Cleveland and fielded questions from tudents at Westerville High School in suburban Columbus.

        Mr. Bush was in Memorial Hall for only about 20 minutes Tuesday evening.

        Earlier Tuesday, one of Mr. Bush's former rivals for the GOP nomination and now a possible running mate this fall, Elizabeth Dole, was in Cincinnati for a fund-raising breakfast for U.S. Rep. Rob Portman.

        Mrs. Dole said it would be “unfair” to blame Mr. Bush for the views of those at Bob Jones University.

        “When he goes to Bob Jones, he is not accepting their agenda,” Mrs. Dole said. “Nobody believes George W. Bush is anti-Catholic.”

        Jim Hannah contributed to this report.

Poll: McCain gaining, but still trails in Ohio
Bauer: McCain went too far in criticizing religious leaders
High school kids ask Bush tough questions
Bush, Gore win Tuesday primaries Continuing coverage from Associated Press.



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