Bush Derides Talk That He Fears 2000 Run
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 15, 1998; Page A01
An emphatic Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) said there is nothing in his personal life that would disqualify him from running for president and dismissed as "bull" recent speculation that he may be reluctant to undergo the harsh scrutiny of a presidential campaign.
During an interview at the governor's mansion here Tuesday night, Bush, who has been the front-runner in recent national presidential polls, appeared anxious to put to rest any suggestions that he was suddenly having second thoughts about running for president in the aftermath of the investigation into President Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.
But he acknowledged that the political climate in Washington, which has been consumed by scandal, wracked with partisanship and often driven by ugly rumors about the private lives of public figures, is far from appealing. He made clear that the environment is something he and others thinking about running in 2000 will have to factor into their decision-making.
Bush, who appears headed toward an overwhelming reelection victory next month, said Tuesday night that he will not make a decision about the presidency until early next year, although he did little to conceal his interest in becoming a candidate.
But as the son of a former president, Bush has seen up close what the office demands, both on the president and his family. He insisted that the main question in his mind is whether he and his family are prepared to make a dramatic "lifestyle change" that comes with running for the presidency or living in the White House, not concerns about the scrutiny that goes along with any national candidacy.
"All this business about me not wanting to put myself in the bubble [of news media scrutiny] is bull," Bush said. "I'm in the bubble. I was in the bubble in '94 and '92. . . . The question is whether Laura [his wife] and I want to make a lifestyle change."
It was Bush himself who triggered the speculation when he told the Austin American-Statesman last month: "It's a troubling period. I think running for president is a commitment to the bubble, and I've got to make up my mind at the right time if that's what I want to do."
His comments caused a ripple of concern and confusion in GOP circles. Polls show Bush as the clear front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2000, and at this early stage, he leads Vice President Gore in hypothetical general election match-ups. Bush's comments also made him a target in a recent series of Doonesbury cartoons, which suggested he is hiding something from his younger days.
Bush voluntarily raised the subject during the interview Tuesday night. He acknowledged again that, like many in the baby boom generation, he had done things when he was younger that he regrets. He has talked many times about his decision to quit drinking alcohol at age 40.
Bush, who is 52, has resisted answering specific questions about the details of his younger days. "When I was young, I did some foolish things," he said in the interview. "But those foolish things aren't going to disqualify me from office." He also said those mistakes were well in his past: "I've been a loyal husband for 21 years and a dedicated dad."
The governor said he already has been subjected to considerable scrutiny, both as the son of former president George Bush and in his first campaign for governor in 1994. "My past has been combed through," he said. "If there was any huge explosion in my background it would have surfaced in 1994 or 1992 or 1988."
Bush also said the prospect that he may run for president has put him under the microscope again and that he regularly hears from old high school or college friends who have been contacted by reporters for state or national papers. "The huge comb is going on out there now," he said.
Friends and advisers of the Texas governor say his remarks of last month were widely misinterpreted. They say Bush's concerns about entering the presidential race have far more to do with a reluctance to trade the life he has now for the partisan politics of Washington and the polarized climate nationally than they do with his desire to keep his past shielded from scrutiny.
"It's not the past as much as [Bush saying] 'I don't really want to put up with this,' " one friend said this week.
Another friend said: "He is seriously enjoying the quality of his own life right now and enjoying the quality of the politics he's practicing, which is bipartisan and aimed at getting things done. I think the question for him is, 'Is there anything I can do differently to change the environment?' "
Bush acknowledged those concerns in the interview, saying he was troubled both by the hyperactive media climate and the bitter partisanship in the nation's capital. "The zero-sum attitude of Washington is disconcerting, the 'I win, you lose attitude,' " he said. "It's not the 'come-together-to-resolve-questions' we have in Texas."
As governor, Bush has worked harmoniously with Democrats in the legislature and has been repaid in this reelection campaign by receiving the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and other Democrats.
But Bush said his style of bipartisan politics could be transferred to Washington. "I do believe an administration can set a tone," he said. "I believe an administration can make a difference."
Bush and his wife are parents of 16-year-old twin daughters and the governor frequently has cited them as reasons he might not run for president. One friend said this week, however, that he believed family concerns were largely alleviated.
"The girls matter a lot," Bush said. "If the answer is to go, they'll be good soldiers. But they won't like it. I wouldn't have liked it [at their age]."
Bush said there is no reason to rush a decision about running, saying he has "an agenda to get through" the legislature if he is reelected.
Bush appeared supremely confident throughout the interview, but said even he has been surprised by the interest in his candidacy and by his national poll numbers. He said he feels "like a cork in a raging river," but also said, "I'm interested or I would have said no."
The most recent poll in the gubernatorial race puts him well ahead of Democratic rival Garry Mauro. A Mason-Dixon poll released Tuesday showed Bush with 70 percent to Mauro's 24 percent. The poll also showed Bush winning a majority of the Hispanic vote, which the governor said is critically important to him this fall. He said he wants to prove that a conservative Republican can win votes in the minority community.
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