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EDITIONS
US midterms Thursday, 29 October, 1998, 12:33 GMT
George W Bush: Front-runner for 2000
Texas Governor George W Bush will roll to victory for re-election, but will he run for the White House?
Will Mr Bush go to Washington?
The American mid-term elections will set the stage for the next presidential election, and Texas Governor George W Bush is at the head of the pack of Republican hopefuls. BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds spent a day with him on the campaign trail.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The question is not whether George W Bush, Governor of Texas and son of the former president, will be re-elected as governor but if he will run for the presidency in the year 2000? He is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, even though he has not even declared.

First, one must get his name right. He is not George Bush Junior. He calls himself George W Bush - the W is for Walker - to try to establish his own public identity.

He has achieved this in Texas.

"We've laid the foundations for a prosperous and decent and hopeful and optimistic Texas. And now it is time to build," Mr Bush said.

I joined him on his campaign bus, where, between handful of popcorn, he told me he would decide next year whether to run for the presidency. He claimed to have "the right stuff".

"I know how to lead. I have been telling my fellow-Texans that I have a vision for a better tomorrow for our state. You can't lead unless you know where you want to lead. I'm a uniter, not a divider," he said.

Unlike many Republicans, he has become very popular among Hispanics, largely by not being an immigrant-basher and by learning Spanish himself.

In so doing, he has blazed a trail for a new Republicanism, bringing the party closer to the centre. Mr Bush tries to appeal to traditional Republicans by pressing traditional values, if rather vague ones, like responsibility and opportunity. He supports a movement called True Love Waits, in which young people decide not to have sex before marriage. Misty Wagner, a 22-year-old, has taken the pledge.

"I kind of like being able to tell people that I'm a virgin, because it just kind of gives them something that they can respect me for. They make fun of me sometimes, but in private they'll come up to me and say: 'That's pretty cool, and I wish I had done that,' " Ms Wagner said.

George W Bush, as we must call him, is now working the crowds, after making the last speech of several on a long campaign. But he's still showing considerable enthusiasm, and his contact with ordinary people is going to be one of the strongest things in his favour, if he ever decides to run for President.

Can conservative Dan Quayle reach out to moderates?
Can conservative Dan Quayle reach out to moderates?
George W's potential opponents in the Republican Party are so far a lack-lustre lot. The fact that former Vice-President Dan Quayle - he who could not spell "potatoes" - is a coming figure says a lot. Like the others, Dan Quayle appeals to the right-wing of the party on social issues like abortion.

"It is our moral obligation to protect vulnerable human beings before birth, during periods of disability and near death," Mr Quayle said.

Millionaire Steve Forbes, who made a hash of running last time is out there again.

Will Steve Forbes pay to play in 2000?
Will Steve Forbes pay to play in 2000?
"Some politicians, like President Clinton, are like the proverbial rooster who thinks his cock-a-doodling makes the sun rise in the morning. The prosperity we're enjoying in the 1990s; the foundations were laid in the 1980s, with those tax cuts, deregulation, winning the Cold War," said Mr Forbes, in criticism of President Clinton.

And there are other names, like Senator John Ashcroft.

"And what should we teach? Instead of compartmentalisation, our children should be taught that morality is indivisible," Sen Ashcroft said.

But moderate Republicans say that the right wing is more noisy than it is influential. Mark Miller is with the recently-formed moderate Republican Leadership Council.

"They make a lot of noise, and they create a lot of stir. But in the end the centrist candidates tend to win our party's nominations, because we do have a majority of Republican voters with us," Mr Miller said.

If he runs, George W Bush is ready for press scrutiny
If he runs, George W Bush is ready for press scrutiny
If George W Bush does run, he'll be constantly questioned about his own past as a heavy drinker, who gave up drink after a 40th birthday party hangover twelve years ago. He has his answer ready.

"A lot of people say: 'Well, gosh, what's in his background, that he had to quit drinking?' "

"What they ought to say: 'This is a guy that's disciplined enough to quit drinking,' " Mr Bush said.

But Mr Bush is ready for the scrutiny he'll face if he runs for president.

"I know there are all kinds of rumours, but that's the political process. Let me tell you something. When people investigate my background, they're going to find that I have been loyal to my wife for 21 years, and that I've been a dedicated dad, and that, given the responsibility of the high office of my state, I have brought honour and dignity to that office," he said.

It's a long way from the placid governor's mansion in Texas to the White House. With teenage twin daughters, Mr Bush is naturally anxious about exposing them to the rigours of Washington. But he has a style and a message which could be popular. And it seemed to me that he has ambition enough to go for it.

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