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WHITE HOUSE WATCH by Richard S. Dunham June 14, 1999

George W. on The Hustings: The Feel of a Winner?
"We've got the next President of the United States here," says a Republican activist

Watch out, Al Gore. Hasta la vista, Dan, Pat, Steve, and Lamar! The George W. Bush campaign has the feel of a locomotive about it.

From the perfectly orchestrated rallies in Iowa to the picture photo-op with George and Barb on the front lawn in Kennebunkport, the Big W appears to have the Big Mo on his side. While many incipient Presidential campaigns go through painful learning curves, the Texas governor looks like he has aced his first big test of 1999.

Needless to say, it's premature to inaugurate the son of the 41st President as the 43rd President just yet. He has eight months to go before the first ballot is cast in the 2000 Presidential race. That's plenty of time for the younger Bush to stumble, and plenty of time for another candidate to catch fire. And Vice-President Gore could well right his struggling campaign.

At first blush, however, Bush seems to have it -- that special something that distinguishes him from the rest of the field. Republican operatives, sensing victory, are donating cash to his campaign in record amounts and volunteering to do the grunt work necessary to recapture the White House.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS. "There's a certain aura about the whole thing," says Frank Severson, a long-term-care industry consultant in Des Moines. Severson, a staunch conservative, worked against the first George Bush in 1988 as an organizer for Jack Kemp. But the son rises above the father, Severson says. "This guy is catching fire. He's got all the ingredients to make it happen."

Polls show that Americans have a positive view of the second-term Texas governor -- but many don't know much about him. The goal of Bush's self-proclaimed "Great Expectations Tour" is to make a good first impression in the crucial first-in-the-nation Presidential sweepstakes states of Iowa and New Hampshire while avoiding a major gaffe. That mission seemed possible, at least after the first two days of the grand tour.

"We've got the next President of the United States here," Republican activist Dale Blair gushed after watching Bush speak in Cedar Rapids. "I was in the Reagan White House for eight years, and I haven't seen that kind of enthusiasm since. People are sensing a vitality, a youthful appeal, a realistic agenda, and an ability to win."

To deflate the Bush balloon, Democrats must find vulnerabilities in his record. They hope to tie him to right-wingers in Congress and pound him for opposing abortion and gun control. And the Dems need to find ways to capitalize on the still-booming economy.

Thus far, though, Bush is making their job difficult. He doesn't look threatening. He doesn't sound extreme. In fact, when he stood alongside his parents at Walker's Point on June 13, he looked more-than-vaguely Presidential. "I think we've done well with this boy," doting mom Barbara told the gathered throng of reporters.

Papa George was downright circumspect about his own defeat in 1992 -- and possible redress from the electorate in 2000. "I was unpopular," he conceded. "But what goes around comes around."

The second George Bush can only hope that his own Presidential campaign doesn't do a 180 in coming months. He has a great start, but his dad can tell him that stratospheric poll numbers sometimes come tumbling down to earth -- one of the most important lessons he may learn from Papa.

Dunham, White House correspondent for Business Week, offers his views on Mondays for BW Online

EDITED BY DOUGLAS HARBRECHT _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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