Affirmative Action Foe Connerly Endorses Bush
By Dan Balz
"I told him tonight I'm on board," Connerly said on his way into a Bush fund-raiser here.
Bush has consistently refused to answer directly whether he would have supported Prop. 209 and has kept his distance from Connerly. But on Tuesday, Bush told reporters he supported "the spirit of no quotas and no preferences" contained in the 1996 ballot initiative.
Connerly said he does not expect to play a visible role in the Bush campaign. "To someone whose message is 'I'm a unifier,' I'm radioactive," Connerly said. "But I don't take offense at that."
Karen Hughes, the governor's press secretary, was caught by surprise at the news that Connerly had decided to support Bush.
"The governor has said he respects him, that he's a man of strong convictions," Hughes said.
Bush has said he supports what he calls "affirmative access," a philosophy of opening up educational and other institutions to all races. He has backed efforts by the University of Texas to institute a new system that assures top-performing high school graduates, regardless of race, of admission. The changes were instituted after the courts outlawed racial preferences there.
Connerly's endorsement will give Bush an important credential with conservative Republicans but could open him to criticism that his talk of "compassionate conservatism" is more rhetoric than reality.
Connerly has challenged Bush to speak out more forcefully on racial issues. But Connerly said tonight that the more he has listened to Bush talk about race, the more he has decided that the two share similar philosophies on racial issues.
"He's said things in the last 24 hours that persuaded me he represents a significant difference from [Vice President] Gore on the issues of race and affirmative-action preferences," Connerly said.
Connerly said he has spoken briefly with Bush about racial issues several times, but until recently was concerned about Bush's declaration that he wants "no one left behind." But Connerly said he is now convinced that while Bush believes no one should be left behind, "nobody gets a free pass."
Portions of this dispatch appeared in the late editions of Thursday's paper.
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