Some people think his name is too thin. George Bush. It just doesn't sound presidential. Perfect for a Yale first baseman, which is what he once was.
Yet here he stands, lean and clean hopeful in a new blue suit before microphones and the click-whir of cameras in the National Press Club, the windows open, first day of May fluttering in. Behind him are his wife of 35 years, his five handsoms grown children, one of his brothers. The snapshot is somewhere between Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood.
There are maybe 150 people in the room, knights of the keyboard mostly, with a heavy-lidded sense of deja vu. "Ladies and gentleman, I am a candidate for president of the United States," says George Bush. He promises, he says, not a new deal, or a new frontier, or a great society, but a "new condor." He says he is going after the Republican nomination with a "full-court press." He says, "If I don't know, I'll tell you so. If I do know, I'll be selling hard."
He says these things grabbing fistfuls of air and strangling them to his chest. Once talking of his moral opposition to abortion, his voice breaks.
Afterward, pilling out, one newsman says this to another: "So what'dya think?"
"i thought he showed verve."
"yeah, his campaign might have peaked right here."
George Bush, 54, might have invented by Booth Tarkington. He looks so American-a boy at the noonday of his own optimism. Everything about his background seems "right." He went to Philips Academy in Andover, Mass., and he got shot down in the Pacific. He was Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, and he went out West dewy with exuberance to find his fortune. (He did, in Texas oil contracting.) He is the son of a late patrician senator from Connecticut, Prescott Bush. His great-grandfather was an Episcopalian minister. There is even the requisite adoring kid brother.
"when George used to come home from college in the same room with him," says Johnny Bush, 47, a Manhattan investments counselor who is co-chairman of his brother's finance committee.
These days, while Ronald Reagan holds and Lowell Weicker folds, while John Connally and Bob Dole and Phil Crane and Harold Stassen and Benjamin Fernandez draw for their best hands, George Herbet Walker Bush is somewhere out in the country-in Vermont, or Florida, or Iowa-playing his only joker: mass immersion.
Last week, the candidate was in Utah and Louisiana and Florida and Alabama. ("also landed in Colorado and made two calls - does that count?") See him run.
This week he went from New York to Kentucky to Illinois. And so it goes.
In the age of the primary, George Bush has decided to work the country almost county by counting, precinct, to get the nomination. It is a brutal strategy, but he is willing to employ it, at least for now. He doesn't care a fig, he says, that he has only a couple of percentage points in the polls. So did Jimmy Carter once upon a time. That is inspiration.
At the moment, the inspiration-and the strategy-is paying off. Three days ago Bush landed first in a straw poll of Iowa Republicans who will have a say in next January's important Iowa precinct caucuses. Those are the same caucuses that, four years ago, cannon-fired a peanut farmer into the national glare. Bush's "victory" Monday night, at a state party dinner, was nearly 14 percentage points ahead of Reagan, the alleged front GOP runner in Campaign '80.
Yesterday, the candidate wasin Chicago, savoring the Iowa straw vote. He talked on the phone in the middle of the afternoon from a hotel room. He had just come from a press luncheon. He was tired, and sounded it. This weekend, over Memorial Day, he will have three days off-the longest stretch of down time in recent memory.
"the Iowa thing validates our strategy, I think," he said. "It's too early to be conclusive about anything."
He said he didn't mind a bit suddenly being compared to Jimmy Carter and the early history of '76. "As long as you leave off the other half-the incompetence part."
Even before his formal announcement in Washington on May 1, Bush had already been in 42 states since last September, comeng on talk shows between the ads for union dip and whitewalls, selling his likeable self and his record of experience to the electorate.
Experience he's got, George Bush could attach "former" to his first name. He is a former two-term congressmen fron Houston (his adopted home), a former ambassador to the United Nations, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, a former special representative to Peking, a former director of the CIA. For all of these jobs, he got high marks.
About the only jthing he's got not former at is money. "i'm one of those rich Texas something or others," he joked at the National Press Club. So far, his campaign has raised close to $1 million. (Rep. Crane's has raised nearly $2 million). He was the first to qualify for federal matching campaign funds.
There are two things George Bush cannot understand: Why almost anybody wouldn't want to run for president, and why the press keeps tagging him as "bland" and "uncharismatic."
On the first: "People come up to me and they say, 'George, why do you want to be president of the United States?' But they don't say it as if they mean, 'Aren't you lucky?' They say it as if they mean, 'Aren't you nuts?"
On the second:
"When I read I'm professorial and humorless, I say, 'That's not me!' When they say, 'This guy doesn't have enough substance, hehs too light,' I dispute that! How could I have held all those jobs without substance? Tell me that." 'Bush Country'
Hartford, Conn. Four guys in bow ties and vests are playing oompah music. George Bush is on a dais, flanked by his family and local pols. Overhead: A banner proclaiming "Connecticut is Bush Country." He looks thrilled. All about him, 300 people eat ravenously.
Out in the hall, a Republican committeewoman who helped plan this first campaign stop is listing names of notables. "Oh, Roger Eddy's here. He's a former state senator. He's the one who put out the bird calls."
The candidate himself himself got here via his own chartered Eastern Air Lines DC-9 with 28 press in tow. (After the first day, the number lops off to 13; then 4.) On the way in from Bradley Field, an argument and arisen among several boys on the bus about whether this was the earliest known date a candidate has chartered his own plane. Then a dispute erupted over whether this was the first press bus of Campaign '80.
"Connally had the first bus of the year."
"Nah. Thos wer just vans."
Inside the Hilton now, the candidate, in swelling voice, his morning manicured look starting to pleasingly soil, says, "I will win for three reasons." The first reason is organization. "I start at absolutely nowhere in the polls and I don't care. We are the most well organized campaign in the field."
The second reason is issues. "Hamburger was - what? $1.79 a pound? How long can we allow this to go on?"
The third reason is idealism. George Bush's voice grows soft. The strangling gesture is up close to his chest. "I love this country. I want to work for it. I want to work for YOU. I know I'm going to make a convincing, credible showing in those early primaries. I intend to. I've got to."
The band strikes up "I've Been Working on the Railroad."
On her way out, Mrs. Prescott Bush, the candidatehs mother, who is getting off here, stops to talk. She's in a handsome turquoise suit and tasteful jewelry. She lives in Greenwich, Conn. "It was always Sen. Bush's policy and my own to let them do whatever they strongly wished. I was apprehensive at first, because George can get tired. Actually, I think he'll win the whole thing."
Back on the bus, a reporter who has overhead this say: 'I think he ate the whole thing." Cut CIA Loose
Issues. George Bush is for nuclear development, no matter Three Mile Island. He has reservations about SALT. He thinks we've tied the hands of the CIA. He thinks a tax cut is fruitless without a cut in federal spending. But he thinks we should still build up military strength and show the flag abroad. Inflation is the key issue, he says. Though he despises labels, thinks they're inaccurate, George Bush says he is probably a moderate-conservative. He agrees there isn't that much difference between his positions and those of some of his oppnents. "Yes, there is a matrix. The difference is hard work. Mine." Winging It
Two weeks after he finished preschool, in 1942, George Bush enlisted in the Navy, America was at war. He went to Chapel Hill for training and 10 months later he was an ensign with wings, the youngest pilot in Navy history. He was 18.
After three air medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross, he came home to go to Yale. He got married. He finished his economics degree in 2 1/2 years. Turning down Wall Street, he put a suitcase in his paw and went to Odessa, Tex., where he lived in a trailer compound next door to a prostitute. He got started in land dealing. He co-founded three independent oil firms, two of which - Zapata Petroleum Corp. and Zapata Off-Shore Company - made him wealthy. Though he was never exactly a rough-neck, it wasn't Greenwich, either.
"Sure, I look back on those days foundly," he says. "I wanted to do something . . . exciting. I wanted to accomplish something. I just didn't watn to go down to New York and work in some office. Young men full of adventure aren't thinking of that. Hell, I was there beside those guys when the rig went down. Actually, it wasnht all fun. It was up and down. I had a bleeding ulcer." Rising to the Bait
Boston, Logan Airport. The candidate stands before a microphone and a makeshift lectern in Eastern Air Lines' Blue Room. This is a "local press opportunity." In 15 minutes, Bush will be limousined downtown for a hotel reception. He is introduced now by Bill Saltonstall, former state senator. Saltonstall, salty, with a prizefighter's face, says, "Ladies and gentlemen, you've come to hear George Bush, and here he is."
"Uh, my co-chairman believes in a crisp introduction," says Bush, looking at him weirdly.
There is some fencing back and forth between the candidate and the press. The shah of Iran comes up. Bush says the United States should have given him more support. But wouldn't that have been intervention? Somebody wants to know. No, not exactly. The more he squirms, the more the press boys try to bait. "Let's sit up in the light," says one. Bush wriggles away.
On the president: "Regrettably, he just can't cope. Some of his problems seem to overwhelm him. He just doesn't seem able to manage. Like the way he vacillated on Taiwan."
The session over, Bush strides across the airport lobby. "Say, which one is George Bush?" asks an elderly lady in a raincoat. Right there, points an aide. "He's in films, isn't he?" What to Wear
George Bush, who has a thin, high-timbred Eastern accent, lives in the Memorial Tanglewood area of Houston. It is a big house, though not a splashy one. There is a pool but no tennis court, which is odd because tennis is what the Bush family plays with passion. George is the best, people say. He's very tough in singles.
According to his brother, George Bush is a terrible dresser. His mother made him get a new suit for his announcement speech. "You like that suit? Huh?" says Johnny Bush. "It's the only decent one he's got. He's got these baggy gray things. They cost $80 and he tinks they're terrific. I've seen him with two different colored socks. We've got to give this boy some counsel."
When you ask George Bush whether he's a New Englander or a Texan, he says, "I'm hybird. I'm enriched by two cultures. I have two incarnations, so to speak."
Bush has three brothers and one sister. He is second oldest. His older brother, Pres, is big in insurance in Connecticut. Bucky, the youngest, is president of the Boatman's National Bank in St. Louis. All of the family are pitching in on the campaign.
If there is something unique about the campaign of George Bush, it is the ecletic arc he has cut in drawing people to his staff. He's got one of Reagan's former top strategists, David Kenne. He's got Gerald Ford's 197l campaign manager, James Baker (who lives three blocks from Bush in Houston and plays ferocious tennis with him), and Gerald Ford's former national finance chairman, Robert Mosbacher. He's got a former communications director from the Democratic National Committee, Susan Morrison, as his deputy press head. He's even signed on two top former aides to George Wallace to organize Alabama. They are earning $4,000 a month.
So far, Bush is organized in every early primary state, and he has a nucleus of organization in most others. His central office is in Houston, where 35 are on the payroll; another 15 are working out of Alexandria. When Bush comes to Washington, he usually stays at the Jefferson Hotel. "They're very accomodating people," he says.
Up until six weeks ago, Bush was drumming across the country in the tourist section of airliners in the company of David Bates, a 27-year-old Houston lawyer-neigbor who functions as instant advance man, valet, moral support. Now there are more on board, including press secretary Baker, though in the lean days of this summer it will often just be the candidate and his man Friday again. The two customarily jog three miles a week together when they're on the road. Bates, who is a kind of youthful Bush, just as preppy, says his boss "really likes people, really.
"I'll tell you one thing: When he gets down, he doesn't take it out on me. Just a very few times he's gotten short with me. Five minutes later he's clapping me on the back and saying 'C'mon.'"
"There's less fanfare now, in the sense of the big airplane and things," Bush said yesterday. "I'm not a house-hold face."
This summer, Bush says, it will be crucial for him to find time "to sit down and think." Right now, he's running too hard.
Pundits say the Byzantine politics of Texas may be crucial to George Bush's campaign. There has been a raging war in the Texas legislature, fought between the so-called "killer bees," and the "workers bees," over a state primary bill. If there should be an early Texas primary, say in March of next year (and this looks increasingly doubful), that could enable Connally to sidetrack Reagan and blow Bush completely out of the water. That is one scenario. On the other hand, a later primary might help Bush, who potentially could have built up name recognition and staying power. Bush has never won statewide election in Texas; he lost a U.S. Senate race twice there. It is a sore point. This 'Bird Bush'
Concord, N.H. Not Concord, actually. The ozonosphere over Concord. Dusk now. George Bush has been selling hard all day. He sits in the forward cabin of his very own DC 9 (which cost him $18,000 for two days), his tie still straight, his leg propped on a huge briefcase (which David Bates usually lugs), a glass of wine in one hand. Behind him, drinking harder stuff, are the press. Their ties are down.
"It's a big project, but I know I can complete it," he says "Now I'm in it. I'm driven. I'm driven to contribute something."
He pounds a fist. "It's not a job. It's a . . . a . . . challenge. And I AM idealistic. A lot of it, I guess, stems from my father who inculcated into us a sense of service. He would be the moderator of out town meetings when the other people were off on vacation or somewhere."
The jet lumbers onto the tarmac of tiny Concord airport. A snake of cars with headlights on winds out to the plane's edge. Bush's mood suddenly soars. He has been here a dozen times already in the past year. It's home in a way. He knocks on the Plexiglas and waves to the figures in the cars.
"I know if I do my part right," he says, almost talking to himself. So what the hell difference does it make right now if I'm 2 percent or 8 percent?"
Outside, Bush is embraced by Bob Turner. Bob Turner works for Rep. Jummy Cleveland, who is supporting Bush. Turner calls himself a "bag-man," though he is much more than that. When the candidates come in, he helps drive them to the New Hampshire Highway Hotel, the seat of Republicanism in the New Hampshire primary. Turner says he has seen his state's primary come and go for 20 seasons. He knows about ebb and flow. Tonight hehs in a green suit. He smokes a green pipe. You could read it all as hope.
"I've seen them all come up here wanting to be president," he says, sounding like the sage of Concord. "This bird Bush, I like him, I really do. I got to know him back when he was with the CIA. I'd say it's gonna be uphill all the way. But that's what makes America great, ain't it?" CAPTION: Picture, George Bush announcing his candidacy, by Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post