Wednesday, May 24, 2000

Bush, in Ohio, stresses schools

Visit includes raising funds with Wexner help

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

(Associated Press photo)
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        COLUMBUS — In the latest of his frequent forays into the key state of Ohio on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush grabbed hold of two things — the “Democrat” issue of education and a pot of central Ohio campaign money.

        The Texas governor, holding the same single-digit lead over Vice President Al Gore in Ohio polls that he holds nationwide, went to an inner-city grade school on Columbus' north side to tout his Texas plan to have all children reading by the time they reach third grade.

        While in Columbus, Mr. Bush went to the suburban home of Les Wexner, founder of The Limited stores and a major GOP fund-raiser, for a fund-raising event Ohio GOP insiders said might raise $1 million for the Bush campaign and the Republican Party.

        With Ohio Gov. Bob Taft at his side, Mr. Bush toured an after-school reading program at Hamilton Elementary School. He met in the school gymnasium with 10 teachers, tutors, parents and administrators to discuss his reading initiative in Texas and Mr. Taft's “Ohio Reads” program.

        “One of the most important things society has to do is to make sure no child is

        left behind,” said Mr. Bush, who is making his education record in Texas a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

        Mr. Bush said that after becoming governor of Texas, he instituted a reading initiative that requires all third-graders to be able to read, with diagnostic testing of children in kindergarten through second grade to make sure they are making progress.

        If they aren't, they do not move on, Mr. Bush said.

        “We do not believe in the soft bigotry of low expectations in Texas,” Mr. Bush said.

        Education is an issue that in recent presidential elections belonged to President Clinton and the Democrats, but the Bush campaign has been making an effort to get out in front of the Gore campaign on the issue and others that American voters tell pollsters they care about most, including Social Security.

        “He's taking on issues that the Democrats have run on and won,” said Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, who was at the school, “just like Bill Clinton took issues away from the Republicans.”

        After the Columbus school event, Mr. Bush went to the Wexner home, where party-goers paid $1,000 to the Bush campaign and some high-rollers paid $25,000 to the Republican Party.

        Ohio has been one of the Bush campaign's best campaign money sources, particularly the Columbus and Cincinnati areas.

        Since last summer, Mr. Bush has been in the state seven times, and most of the events included a public event like the one at the Columbus school Tuesday followed by a fund-raising event.

        The number of Bush visits to Ohio will snowball in intensity as the campaign begins in earnest after this summer's presidential nominating conventions. Ohio is one of a handful of states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois included — that strategists on both sides say could swing a close election.

        No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio.

        “I know this sounds egocentric to say this, but the whole presidential election could come down to Southwest Ohio,” said Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, who was with Mr. Bush in Columbus.

        “We are going to have to get Republicans energized and pump up the turnout in Southwest Ohio if Bush is going to win the state,” said Mr. Deters, who is also Hamilton County GOP chairman. “It could all come down to what we do.”


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