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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Shows His Love for State GOP

Politics: Texas governor makes another visit to his 'neglected' backers. Strategists question his wisdom--California heavily favors Gore.

September 27, 2000|MARIA L. La GANGA and SCOTT MARTELLE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — These days, Republicans in California can sometimes resemble the children of divorce--clingy, demanding, a little uncertain of Dad's love.

"The visitation," said Karen Hughes, communications director for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, "is never enough."

Bush is in the state this week, warning of an "education recession," at a Silicon Valley high school Tuesday morning and in Los Angeles today. He is raising $1.4 million for the state GOP and proving he really cares about the most-populous state in America.

California Republicans "felt so neglected in recent presidential elections," Hughes said. "First they said, 'Well, you won't be coming back later this summer.' And then they said, 'You'll never come back this fall.' "

Now that it's autumn and Bush is here--on his ninth visit to the state since clinching the Republican nomination for president in March--Hughes said she figures the state GOP will complain that, "you won't come back in October. Once we come back in October, I don't know what else we can do."

Although Bush and Vice President Al Gore seem to be trading off the top spot each week in national opinion polls, the Democrat has always enjoyed a healthy lead in California. The most recent statewide poll, released Sunday, gives Gore a 12-point lead over Bush.

On Tuesday night, in an interview on "Larry King Live," Bush brushed aside his opponent's lead, saying, "I'm going to win in California. I am."

Still, some strategists question Bush's wisdom in visiting California at all at this point, gobbling up critical time and money that could be better spent elsewhere six weeks before election day.

"If the question is whether he's using his time wisely to win California, the answer is no," said Bruce Cain, director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies. "If the question is whether he's doing the right thing by the state party, the answer is yes.

"The top of the Republican ticket owed the state party the occasional visit, because what's going on at the congressional level and state level is almost as important as the presidential election."

Roughly half a dozen congressional districts in California face tight races. There's the long-term health of the state party to think about. And the fund-raising is good here. So there Bush was at Sequoia Union High School, warning that troubled learning institutions endanger America's very future.

"If American students don't lead the world in math and science," he said, "the next generation of Americans may not lead the world."

Bush was asked by a student about his position on school vouchers in light of Proposition 38, a voucher initiative on the November ballot. Bush did not take a position, although he believes that children in failing schools that receive federal money should be able to take that money and go elsewhere for an education.

Whether to have a voucher system is "up to the state of California," he said. "I believe in local control of schools. I don't believe the federal government ought to be telling the state of California or the state of Texas how to run your business."

Although Bush did not stump for any other Republican running for office in California, he did acknowledge one candidate's presence in the Sequoia High audience, "my friend Jim Cuneen . . . a man who shares the same passion for public education that I share."

Cuneen, a state assemblyman from San Jose, is running to fill the House seat vacated by Republican Tom Campbell, who is opposing U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in November. Campbell's House seat is considered up for grabs.

Bush "can't abandon the state," says Dane Strother, a Democratic media consultant in Washington. "One in eight congressional districts are in California. . . . He can't allow Republican voters to stay home in California, even though he can't win."

And, Strother added, "there's a tremendous amount of money in this state." Bush raised an estimated $400,000 of it at a Silicon Valley fund-raiser Tuesday, where he sought to undercut Gore's portrayal of him as the guardian of the wealthy and powerful.

Bush previewed what he plans to say to Gore during the fall debates, which start Tuesday in Boston. "I am going to look him square in the eye and say, 'Mr. vice president, being the vice president, you're the powerful, you squandered your moment, you had your chance, you have not led this nation and I am going to,' " Bush said.

Dick Cheney, Bush's running mate, also raised money and talked about education reform Tuesday. At two fund-raisers in Philadelphia, he was expected to draw $75,000 each for the Republican National Committee and the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

In Troy, Mich., he emphasized the need for local control of schools and a reduced role for the federal government in education. He charged that in nearly eight years under President Clinton and Vice President Gore, test scores in reading and math have been stagnant nationwide.

"On their watch, there's been a lot of bold talk but no progress," Cheney said.

He did not, however, address a fall ballot initiative facing Michigan voters that would allow parents to move $3,200 a year in state funds to the schools of their choice. That voucher plan is opposed by Republican Gov. John Engler, a staunch Bush ally.

Cheney spent much of the day attacking Gore's credibility and charged that the Democratic nominee had "distorted and demagogued the Bush-Cheney Medicare plan."

Cheney will campaign in Philadelphia today and then fly to Washington, where he will be keynote speaker at a closed fund-raiser for Senate Republicans.

Bush will finish up his three-day West Coast education swing with a visit to a Los Angeles elementary school today before heading back to Austin, Texas.

*

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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