Republican National Convention
Friday, August 04, 2000

Bush appears the man to beat




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        PHILADELPHIA — Released from the politically protective womb of the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush leaves here as the GOP's nominee for president with something the party hasn't had following the last two conventions.

        A darn good chance of winning.

        That's an observation, not a prediction. Campaigns are not won at partisan sideshows, which is what political conventions have largely become. But they begin here. Everything so far — the primaries, the fund-raising, the early positioning and posturing — has been a vast warm-up, a weeding out process that is the campaign equivalent of football's preseason.

        The Democrats and Al Gore have their four-day pep rally soon, and then it will be one nasty gauntlet for both candidates up until Election Day.

        What happened in this City of Brotherly Love is not what gives Mr. Bush a chance at The White House. Make no mistake about that.

        The convention was little more than political theater, a contrived propaganda-fest of self-promotion and self-congratulation.

        And don't expect much better from the Dems. They practically invented the modern convention, what with the Hollywood produced videos on Bill Clinton, the tear-filled stories of Mr. Gore and the hideous image of the Clintons and the Gores twirling around to a bad Fleetwood Mac ditty.

        No, what should give Republicans confidence in Mr. Bush is how he acted and reacted in the weeks and months prior to the convention.

        About a year ago he looked like one of the strongest candidates the Republicans have fielded in years, a handsome and energetic big-state governor with a political pedigree, a well-known name and millions and millions of dollars to spend on his campaign.

        Then came the primaries, and John McCain, and Bob Jones University, and rumors of drug use and a whole menu of bad stuff that started to make Mr. Bush look like the terminally troubled Mr. Clinton.

        But the candidate who at times in the early primaries appeared immature did something all grown-up. He started performing like a real candidate, floating policy proposals, listening to his advisers and coming off as the moderate the Republicans need to take back the presidency.

        Mr. Bush still has problems. Texas, where he serves as governor, has a crummy environmental record and has huge numbers of poor children living in substandard housing.

        I can't quite say this is Mr. Bush's race to lose, though the polls seem to suggest it. He is still a candidate who has been through the early stages of battle but not a real war.

        By mid- to late September we should really see who is out in front and who has to play a desperate game of catch-up.

        This is looking like it will be a very tight, a very hard-fought, a very dirty race. Sit back. It might actually be fun to watch. Particularly for victory-starved Northern Kentucky Republicans. Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics.

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