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Bush Asks the Christian Coalition for Support

Campaign: Republican candidate speaks via videotape at organization's convention. He stresses anti-abortion policies, family values and tax relief.


WASHINGTON — There were as many jeers as cheers at first, but George W. Bush won warm applause Saturday after a six-minute videotaped address to the 10th annual conference of the Christian Coalition.

In a carefully calibrated effort to appeal to an important constituency without alienating less ideological voters, the Republican presidential nominee reiterated his support for tax relief, family values and anti-abortion policies in a low-key, undramatic manner.

"I need your help," he told hundreds of conservative Christian activists assembled in a hotel ballroom. "This may be the closest election in 40 years. If we work together, we will give America a fresh start after a season of cynicism."

Bush's decision to address the "Road to Victory" conference via videotape was made belatedly, and many delegates only learned of it about an hour before it took place. The Texas governor was not on the printed program and, in fact, had initially declined an invitation to speak for fear of alienating more moderate voters nationally.

The Rev. Pat Robertson, founder and president of the Christian Coalition, and other coalition supporters urged him to send at least a videotaped message. Bush recorded his remarks--a condensed version of his stump speech--at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

"I thought he got a pretty enthusiastic response. I thought the issues resonated with our members," said Bob Dutko, an official of the coalition. "Obviously, it would have been great to have him in person, but we were mindful of his schedule."

Some coalition members jeered when Bush's speech was announced. But the heckling quickly subsided as he began his videotaped remarks.

Bush drew some of the loudest applause when he pledged to "lead our nation toward a culture that values life," including the lives of the elderly and "the life of the unborn." Contrasting himself with President Clinton, he added that "when Congress sends me a bill against partial-birth abortion, I will sign it into law."

Bush and his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, are divided on the abortion issue. Bush voiced dismay in June when the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, struck down a state ban on the midterm abortion procedure, which involves dismemberment of the fetus. Gore said the ruling helped protect "a woman's right to choose."

Congress has twice passed measures to make the procedure a federal crime, but the legislation was vetoed by President Clinton.

Bush told his Christian Coalition audience, "I know good people disagree on this issue." He went on to say, "Surely we can agree on ways to value life by promoting adoption and parental notification."

On another favorite theme, Bush drew applause when he invoked the name of Ronald Reagan in saying that like the former president, "I believe that the freedom we cherish ultimately depends on the values our families cherish. We must give our children a spirit of moral courage . . . and tell them with clarity and confidence that drugs and alcohol can destroy you."

He also drew a favorable reaction when he promised "tax relief for all Americans" in a budget that "leaves three of every four dollars of the surplus for urgent priorities" such as Social Security, Medicare and "rebuilding our military so that we can keep the peace."

Even so, Dede Robertson, wife of the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson, said Bush can't take the organization's support for granted. Speaking before Bush addressed the crowd, she criticized Bush as well as Gore in an interview with Associated Press.

"We have one candidate who changes his personality every now and then and then we have another candidate who has distanced himself from his supporters and pals around with John McCain."

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