Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush has a four-word definition of Vice President Gore: "He's the status quo."
In an interview with CNN yesterday as he wound up his opening campaign swing with stops in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the Texas governor said, "If people like the status quo, if they're happy with what's happening in Washington," then Gore would win a Gore-Bush race and "you can come down and go fishing with me in Texas."
Bush also picked up a line often employed by former senator Bill Bradley (N.J.), Gore's only rival for the Democratic nomination. The presidency, Bush said, "is about big ideas, not little ideas." Bradley has used identical words to contrast himself with Gore.
Bush's final stops included a tour of a circuit-board factory and a drop-in at a popular family restaurant in Derry, N.H. Then he took his campaign into Massachusetts, where he visited a charter school in the largely impoverished former mill town of Lawrence. Bush spoke Spanish with some of the Hispanic students at Community Day Charter School but told them that mastering English is one of the keys to success in America.
As governor, Bush has been a big backer of the charter school movement, which allows groups of parents and educators to reestablish selected public schools and run them with significant independence. After listening to Community Day teachers and students explain their school's standards of courtesy and hard work, Bush said, "It's a fantastic school because there are educational entrepreneurs who are willing to make changes."
Under Bush, the charter school experiment has expanded to more than 100 schools in Texas. A recent survey indicated that the results are mixed. About a dozen of the schools are seriously troubled or have been shut down.
Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the same survey also found that parents are highly satisfied with the charter schools and noted that many of the schools have been set up to deal with dropouts and other hard-to-educate children. "We should not let the failings of a few schools take away from the overall success," she said.
At a Boston fund-raiser, Bush shared the podium with Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci, and he told CNN that the early support he received from Cellucci, an abortion rights supporter, showed that Republicans can bridge the gap on the abortion issue.
Responding to criticism from rival candidates of his Monday statement that he would not impose an antiabortion "litmus test" on his judicial appointees, Bush said he hopes to see that "every unborn child is protected by law and welcomed to life." But he added: "I also recognize that I'm talking about an ideal world, and we don't live in an ideal world right now. So in the meantime . . . we need a leader to bring people to understand the importance of banning partial-birth abortion, having parental notification laws and not spending taxpayer money on abortion."
On whether abortion was a priority for him, Bush said, "I think it's an important issue. There are a lot of important issues. What I also have said is I understand . . . good people can disagree on this issue."
Von Drehle reported from Lawrence, Mass.
CAPTION: George W. Bush chats with sixth-grader Temistocles Devers at Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, Mass.