Bush praises contributions of faith-based institutions

Texas governor steers clear of controversial issues

July 15, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Bringing his surging Republican presidential campaign into heavily Democratic Maryland, Texas Gov. George W. Bush raised about $400,000 at a Baltimore fund-raiser last night after endorsing the importance of faith-based institutions during a stop at an east-side community center.

Confident and folksy, Bush energized a crowd of about 500 at a downtown hotel with a 20-minute speech that outlined a socially compassionate, fiscally conservative agenda but steered clear of hot-button issues such as abortion.

"It's conservative to cut taxes," the Republican front-runner told the group. "It's compassionate to never ever give up on a single child that lives in America."

While the crowd applauded his calls for a generous society, the crowd dominated by Republican business people cheered heartily for his promise to "fight for meaningful, long-lasting tort reform."

Bush's visit to the state thrilled many of his Maryland supporters, who view him as the likely GOP nominee and a good bet to retake the White House after eight years of Democratic control.

"I think that people are sick and tired of the Clinton-Gore cabal," said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the former GOP nominee for Maryland governor and chairman of Bush's effort in the state.

"They're really very anxious to get behind someone who looks like a winner."

Republican presidential candidates have rarely held big-ticket fund-raisers in Democratic Baltimore, but the $1,000 tickets for the Bush event were an easy sell, even to people who know Bush only through media reports, Sauerbrey said.

"I think that obviously a lot of the people coming to this event never had a chance to meet him," Sauerbrey added.

"But from what they've seen and heard, they've been ready to get on board."

Bush's efforts to reach out to minority voters may pay off in Maryland, where a quarter of the population is African-American, said Michael Steele, who is black and a vice chairman of the state Republican Party.

"I think you're going to see a little tick on the radar screens" in the black community as the election approaches, Steele said.

`Let's don't blow this'

Joining Bush yesterday was U.S. Rep. John R. Kasich, an Ohio Republican who abandoned his long-shot bid for the presidency yesterday and endorsed the Texan.

"It's a coming together of Republicans of virtually every stripe who are saying, let's don't blow this," Kasich said of Bush's growing momentum.

Maryland's U.S. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a 2nd District Republican who had supported Kasich, also endorsed Bush yesterday, and is angling to land a high-profile post in Bush's campaign here.

Bush began his stay in Baltimore at The Door, a nonprofit center on North Chester Street near Johns Hopkins Hospital that offers a variety of community programs, including a summer day camp for children and an initiative to rebuild abandoned houses using men who have been in trouble with the law.

The stop at The Door was designed to highlight Bush's support for using such faith-based institutions to supplement government services.

"I think the role of the federal government is to invigorate these kinds of institutions," Bush told reporters after his 45-minute tour.

The Door receives funding from churches, as well as nonprofit institutions and state and local government.

Inside the center, a large quotation from the book of Isaiah hangs on the wall: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord."

Outside, Bush chatted with some of the men working on one of The Door's rehabilitation projects. Inside, he fielded questions from children attending the day camp.

Only one child seemed to pose a significant policy question for Bush, asking if he would, as president, raise the minimum wage. Bush said he would favor such a raise in certain areas, but added, "I worry about pricing people out of work."

Bush, the son of former President George Bush, is not the first to take a national campaign visit to The Door.

Tipper Gore, wife of Vice President Al Gore, now a Democratic candidate for the presidency, made a similar visit two years ago.

Opposition from clergy

During Bush's visit, the local Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance announced plans to begin running a radio ad today in Baltimore and Washington attacking his gun-control record.

In particular, the ad targets Bush for signing Texas legislation to allow for the concealed carrying of handguns.

As a loud bell tolls in the background, a voice says, "Americans are outraged. Their voices ring out to bring an end to the gun violence.

"Can we ever count on George W. Bush to heed the call?"

The Rev. Douglas I. Miles, head of the alliance -- a group of Baltimore-area clergy -- said the goal of the $10,000 ad campaign was to "make Marylanders aware of Governor Bush's record on gun control."

"At best, it's dismal, especially when one considers the handgun violence in this nation," said Miles, who is paster of an East Baltimore church.

`Must not understand me'

Bush shrugged aside a question about the ad.

"They must not understand me very well," Bush said of the group mounting the ads. "The way to deal with gun violence is to arrest people and put them in jail.

"Crime is down in Texas. We're tough."

Earlier yesterday, Bush, who has maintained a comfortable lead in recent polls, picked up a reported $400,000 at a Northern Virginia fund-raiser.

Last night, he flew to Iowa to begin a two-day bus tour in anticipation of an important straw poll of Republicans next month.

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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