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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 06:03 GMT
Too Texan for the White House?
George Bush
Bush: Has the Republican party in his grasp
By Rob Watson in Austin, Texas

The voters of Texas go to the polls on Tuesday to choose their favourite for the Republican nomination.

But it is hardly a cliff-hanger. The hometown boy, Governor George Bush, is now certain to be the party's candidate in November's presidential election.

He goes hard to the right in the state where he thinks he needs the right-wing vote. He goes back to the centre in another state

Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the state Democratic party
To understand George Bush the man and the politician you have to go to Texas. It is the place he calls home and the state he has been running for the last six years.

Seeking to trade up from the elegant white painted governor's mansion in the centre of Austin to an even grander White House in Washington, George Bush, is now reaching out to those independent and wavering democrat voters who had taken such a shine to John McCain.

"The McCain supporters will hear my message of reform - reforming schools, reforming the military and reforming the tax code - and renewal," Mr Bush said.

"They want somebody to lift this country's spirit."

Courting Hispanic voters

The governor is also trying to woo black and Hispanic voters.

In Texas, you are almost as likely to hear Spanish as English, and the governor has been keen to paint himself as a loyal friend to the Hispanic community.

We've already had a very Texan Texan as president. You couldn't get anymore Texan than Lyndon B Johnson, and he did just fine

Anneline Gilberth, Texas resident
His supporters in that community include Tony Garza, who is also a Bush appointee to the state government.

Mr Garza says the governor has a real feel for the people's needs.

"He has basically said to the fastest growing community in this country that you are part of my administration," Mr Garza said.

"My agenda recognises that your dreams, here in America, are ones that I want to see realised."

Students for and against Bush

Just a short walk from the governor's mansion, students on the laid back campus of the University of Texas are sharpening their tenpin bowling skills.

It is young voters like these the governor must win over to make it to the White House.

George Bush
Some say he has no guiding principle other than that he wants to be president
One young conservative, who described himself as a member of the Religious Right, said of Mr Bush: "I think that he represents conservative values."

Eventually, he wants to raise a family, and he said: "I believe that he will appeal to us in that regard."

But, Mr Bush does not enjoy as much support among young liberals as he does young conservatives.

In addition to not seeing eye-to-eye, one young liberal said: "I don't think he's a very intelligent person. I think he fell into his position because of his family."

"He doesn't have enough experience," she said, adding that she disagreed with his position on several issues including abortion.

Mr Bush has little chance of winning her vote.

'No guiding principles'

And he is certainly not going to get the vote of Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the state Democratic party, who is scathing about the governor's current efforts to paint himself as a man of the political centre.

"He goes hard to the right in the state where he thinks he needs the right-wing vote. He goes back to the centre in another state," Ms Malcolm said.

"That is why I say that this man has no guiding principle other than that he wants to be president of the United States," she added.

During the last legislative session, she began referring to him as "Governor Beat-Around-the-Bush" because she felt he would not take a stand on issues.

Too Texan

Critics from outside the state say he has another problem: He is too Texan.

At Austin's legendary country music hangout, the Broken Spoke, the clientele don't take too kindly to the notion of anything or anyone being too Texan.

One patron there said that the notion that anyone is too Texan is a typical manoeuvre by the press.

"You never hear anyone say that a person is too north-eastern," he said.

He added that the press "should concentrate on George Bush the man, and not necessarily where he is from."

Hometown backers

Back outside the governor's mansion a group of seven ladies from his hometown of Midland in West Texas have just emerged from the tour and are posing for snaps.

Their unofficial spokeswoman, Anneline Gilberth, insists the state has a proud political tradition.

"We've already had a very Texan Texan as president. You couldn't get anymore Texan than Lyndon B Johnson, and he did just fine," Ms Gilberth said, adding, "I think that George Bush will do just as better if not better."

Texans will also tell you there is a southerner in the White House, right now, Bill Clinton. And a southerner trying to keep it for the Democrats, Al Gore.

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