Getting a boost from the old man

Family: Former President George Bush hits the campaign trail for his son in Iowa.

January 14, 2000|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ATLANTIC, Iowa -- The other George Bush -- the one who doesn't use the W -- showed up in conservative farm country in his first campaign appearance for his son yesterday, sounding one part political professional and one part proud papa.

The former president has not wanted to get in Texas Gov. George W. Bush's way and had kept off the stump -- having come to Iowa just once before during the campaign, for a series of Republican fund-raisers. But yesterday, he did his duty for his eldest son, describing him as a man raised with solid values who lived politics at his father's side.

"I hope our son has inculcated, through experience and through his mother, a sense of values," the 75-year-old former president told more than 800 people jammed into an auditorium and a spillover room at Atlantic High School. "Our son will serve with honor."

It seemed at times a wistful moment for the former president, who assured the crowd, "I don't feel dead, and I don't feel very old" as he revisited the presidential campaign trail that had left him in defeat in 1992. Sounding a little regretful about his last race, he talked about his failure to communicate effectively against Bill Clinton in 1992.

"I wasn't clear enough," he said. "Couldn't communicate well enough. People wanted change, change, change."

Memories in Iowa

Iowa holds complicated emotions for the Bush family. In 1980, the state delivered a surprise victory to Bush over Ronald Reagan in the caucuses, and though he lost the nomination, Bush went on to become Reagan's vice president. Yet in 1988, Bush finished third in the Iowa caucuses, a setback to the candidate even though he went on to become president.

There are only 11 days before the Iowa caucuses, the first test of the field of Republican candidates. The campaign is eager for a clear-cut Bush victory in Iowa, given the stiff competition from Arizona Sen. John McCain in New Hampshire and the possibility of a Bush loss in the primary there, eight days after the caucuses.

Enter Dad. Candidate Bush has been criticized for seeming to en

joy a sense of entitlement: His father was president; therefore, his detractors charge, he is merely claiming his birthright. And so the elder Bush has stayed largely in the shadows.

Even his mother, the highly popular Barbara Bush, has remained off the campaign trail, where she would be sure to attract big crowds and good will.

"The next one of you all that comes up and says, 'Why's Barbara not here?' you're going to get it," Bush joked to the crowd. To sustained applause, he called the Bush family matriarch "the most popular woman in the United States of America."

Family values

In 20 minutes of remarks, Bush reminded the crowd of the sort of down-to-earth family values the Bushes represent to many here. He described Barbara kicking him out of bed the first morning after he left the White House to go walk the dogs -- and his mother yelling at him for talking with House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill while Reagan gave his first State of the Union address.

"He started it," Bush recalled.

Bush vowed not to attack any of his son's rivals or his own. "I didn't want to get to be a kind of sour-grapes bad loser," he said of

his decision to refrain from criticizing his successor, President Clinton.

Still, the former president pointedly noted that he had "served with honor" and felt deep respect for the institution of the presidency. He managed a dig that made implicit reference to Monica Lewinsky, now a spokeswoman for the Jenny Craig weight loss program. Bush quipped that Jenny Craig has called him, to see whether he wanted to lose 30 pounds.

Skillful campaigning

When it came to promoting his son, Bush proved the skilled advocate, describing a man who had been reared in political circles and learned from the experience of his father's own campaigns.

Bush said his son spent plenty of time watching from his father's shadow, even during such crises as the Persian Gulf war and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"At my side was the son, George W.," the former president told the crowd. "He's seasoned enough to take criticism and seasoned enough not to make personal mistakes when someone writes something about you you don't particularly enjoy."

Bush praised his son's record in Texas and, in a point that seemed

to conjure up images of his own failed "read my lips" no-new-taxes pledge, noted that his son kept his tax-cut pledge in Texas.

Proud papa

"You can look at Texas and say, 'Our candidate did what he said he was going to do,'" Bush said.

The ever-patrician Bush never quite got mushy, trying instead to stick to his son's achievements as governor. At one point, however, Bush told the crowd, "You can discount what I think because of pride of a father."

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