Three days after Virginia Republicans decided to hold a presidential primary in 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush came here and endorsed a local gun control program that he wants to take nationwide, saying felons should have no access to guns.

Project Exile, which has gotten high national marks while irritating federal magistrates because of the burdensome caseload it causes, sends felons to prison for a minimum of five years if they use a gun in a crime.

Appearing this morning in Richmond's poor East End, Bush embraced Exile, saying the entire nation should have a program to curb illegal gun use.

Bush picked up $350,000 here today in his quest for the White House before heading to Washington to add $1.5 million to his national campaign.

Moving from a public library at one end of town, where his wife, Laura, read to two dozen African American youngsters, to a posh hotel two miles away, where he lunched with a Who's Who of the city's corporate elite, Bush sent a message of "compassionate conservatism."

"I enjoyed everything," said Rosa Whiting, whose daughter, Tara, 9, heard the storybook readings from Laura Bush and Roxane Gilmore, who escorted the Texas governor around town today while her husband, Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), chaired a high-technology conference in Williamsburg. Bush "encouraged me to read," Tara Whiting said.

Bush struck several familiar conservative themes this morning and at lunch, calling for personal responsibility and tweaking Vice President Gore about the country's robust economy, saying, "They no more invented prosperity than they invented the Internet."

Bush predicted that voters will see "a huge difference" between him and Gore. "He's a Washington, D.C., person. He thinks Washington has got all the answers. I don't. I believe the answers are found in our communities. I believe the answers are found in faith-based institutions, in community organizations."

Bush, unlike Gore, said he was open to the idea of school vouchers because he is "willing to blow the whistle on failure" wherever it occurs in the public educational system.

State Democratic leader Craig K. Bieber pounced on Bush's remarks, saying he is too much a part of the "old-fashioned right-wing conservative" part of the GOP. "Like those Republicans in Congress who have consistently tried to undermine our public school system, Bush supports draining away public tax dollars to support private and religious schools though a voucher program," said Bieber, the party's executive director.

Bush also endorsed last week's House vote supporting public display of the Ten Commandments, despite objections it would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. "I have no problem with the Ten Commandments posted on the wall of every public place," he said.

Asked if he favored a certain version of the Commandments, which differ slightly in different faiths, Bush replied: "The standard version. Surely we can agree to a version that everybody can agree to."