Bush reaches out from the right

The Texas governor succeeds with Hispanics, struggles with blacks.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published June 13, 2000 7:03PM (EDT)

George W. Bush tries to get everybody's vote, which is a new strategy for Republicans, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "For years they've just ceded this major advantage to Democratic opponents, particularly in areas where blacks and Hispanics make a sizable portion of the electorate," says Ron Lester, a Democratic pollster. "It's very difficult to win if you're giving away up to 90 percent of that." Bush isn't limiting his outreach to racial groups who've felt excluded from his party. He's also striving for support among social moderates by soft-pedaling on GOP "family values" issues, a position that has the potential to cause a Christian conservative backlash. But that's a gamble Bush is willing to take, according to political analyst Larry Sabato. "Bush believes that he has to take the chance that conservatives are hungry enough to tolerate this," Sabato said. "And if he's wrong, he'll lose and he knows it."

Blacks not buying Bush
Despite the Texas governor's "compassionate conservative" message, African American voters remain uneasy about the Republican and his party. The Washington Post reports that Bush has been inconsistent in his overtures to the black community. New York's Rev. Floyd H. Flake, an influential African-American pastor and past supporter of Rudolph Giuliani, said that Bush never followed up on their October meeting. Flake has now endorsed Al Gore. "I think he's going to have to do more than he's doing," Flake said of the Texas governor. "He's going to have to identify some leaders that he actually has some things in common with and have some real discussions with them."

Bush believes that, as African-Americans get to know him better, the situation will improve, but acknowledges that he still has some hurdles ahead in his relationship with black voters. "It'll be hard," Bush said during an interview a few months ago. "I haven't had a chance to prove my heart to people."

Bush dodges Confederate controversy
In a move meant to prove his heart to the black community, Bush quietly removed plaques bearing Confederate symbols from the Texas Supreme Court. Reuters reports that the state chapter of the NAACP had long sought the action. But this gesture could open up Bush to charges of hypocrisy from Confederate heritage groups. Bush has repeatedly declined to condemn South Carolina for public displays of the Confederate flag, though the state eventually voted to end its official sanction of the banner.

Splitting hairs on the death penalty
Bush's death penalty record is widely seen as an obstacle to his closing the gap among black voters. But Al Gore has yet to step out of line on the capital punishment issue. In an interview with the Oxygen cable television channel, the vice president expressed support for post-conviction DNA testing and for the execution moratorium in Illinois, saying, "We ought to all be able to agree that anything that makes our criminal justice system more accurate and fair ought to receive our full support because if somebody is unjustly executed that is one of the worse tragedies you can imagine." But when it comes to a federal moratorium, Gore said, the jury is still out. "I do not think in the federal courts that the evidence justifies a moratorium and I have not been supportive of it," he said. This is roughly the same position taken by Bush.

Gore's insecure "lockbox"
As part of his "progress and prosperity" tour, the vice president is touting his Medicare "lockbox" proposal, which would shield Medicare funds from the clutches of Congress. But the Associated Press reports that such a measure could prove too little, too late. Under the Gore plan, "you haven't changed the imbalance between revenue and the money that goes out," said Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a fiscally conservative group. Current estimates say that Medicare will start paying out more than it takes in by 2010. The bitter medicine sure to cure this ailment is either higher taxes or lower benefits.

Lazio and Clinton stay tight
The first lady has a fight on her hands in her race for the Senate with New York Rep. Rick Lazio. A CBS News/New York Times survey shows that Hillary Rodham Clinton leads Lazio by 44 percent to 39 percent, a difference just outside the poll's three-point margin of error. CBS also reports that the number of undecided voters has risen in the past month, a sign that the race remains unstable. To Kathy Frankovic, CBS News director of surveys, that 39 percent of voters are not irrevocably committed to either candidate "means a lot can happen between now and November, and also may be one of the reasons voters think the race is interesting." And 70 percent of New Yorkers do find Clinton vs. Lazio "interesting," more than double the percentage of Americans who say they are interested in the presidential race.

Pitchfork Pat tunes in to Dr. Laura
Conservative talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger may move off the radio and onto the Reform Party presidential ticket. USA Today reports that the outspoken announcer has made Pat Buchanan's short list of possible running mates. Such a move would no doubt deepen his rift with the party's libertarian wing, which resists Buchanan's ultraconservatism on social issues. On her radio program, Schlessinger has called single mothers "immoral" and homosexuals "deviant."

What part of "no" don't you understand?
Perhaps John McCain needs to devote one day each week to shooting down veep rumors. According to Reuters, McCain had to do it again, dismissing columnist Robert Novak's speculation that he's still in the running for the second spot on the GOP presidential ticket. "I've made it very clear I don't want to be considered and I don't want to be vice president of the United States and I will not be," McCain said. The Arizona senator might save some aggravation by just avoiding Novak's columns entirely. That writer's suggestion in April that Bush still saw McCain as veep meat prompted the temporary cancellation of the Bush-McCain endorsement summit.

In other veep watch news, the AP reports that former Missouri Sen. John Danforth is pulling himself out of the running for the GOP vice presidential slot. He cited his happiness with his post-government life and concerns about his family's privacy as major factors in the decision. Danforth said he was recently jarred from sleep by the memory of then-Secretary of State George Shultz's visit to his home. "There were a couple of Secret Service people standing in our backyard in the dark, and I remembered that," Danforth said. "It's the fact that if you do that [high-level of a] job, it crowds out everything else in your life."

Today in Washington
Two celebrities are making the world safer for democracy -- and elephants. The host of "The Price Is Right," Bob Barker, and Oscar-winning actress Kim Basinger speak on behalf of the Captive Elephant Accident Prevention Act, which would ban the use of elephants in traveling shows and entertainment rides.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 44 (CNN/USA Today/Gallup June 6-7).
  • Bush 42 to Gore 41 (Zogby May 29-31).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (CBS News/New York Times May 10-13).
  • Bush 51 to Gore 43 (Los Angeles Times May 4-7).

    Vice presidential preferences (previous):
    Preferences for Republican vice presidential candidate among Republican voters (NBC/Wall Street Journal April 29-May 1):

  • Colin Powell, 39 percent
  • Elizabeth Dole, 19 percent
  • John McCain, 18 percent
  • Fred Thompson, 6 percent
  • Christine Todd Whitman, 5 percent
  • John Kasich, 4 percent
  • Tom Ridge, 3 percent
  • Other, 1 percent
  • Not sure, 5 percent

    Preferences for Democratic vice presidential candidate among all voters (Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll March 22-23):
  • Bill Bradley, 27 percent
  • Dianne Feinstein, 10 percent
  • Bob Kerrey, 6 percent
  • Bob Graham, 5 percent
  • John Kerry, 4 percent
  • Bill Richardson, 4 percent
  • Evan Bayh, 3 percent
  • Other, 6 percent
  • Not sure, 35 percent

    On the trail
    Buchanan: To be announced.
    Bush: Maine.
    Gore: Pennsylvania and New York.
    Ralph Nader: Washington.

    Sound off
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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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