Texas Gov. George W. Bush opened his California presidential campaign today with a direct appeal to the fast-growing Hispanic vote and an olive branch to Hollywood, saying he would not "single out" the entertainment industry in the debate over children and violence.
Beginning three days of campaigning and fund-raising in a vote-rich state that has turned hostile to Republicans, Bush quickly distanced himself from the anti-immigration Proposition 187 that then-Gov. Pete Wilson championed in 1994 and that has badly hurt the GOP among Latino voters here.
"I said when it first came out I was against the spirit of 187 for my state," Bush said. "I felt like every child ought to be educated regardless of the status of their parents."
But on another controversial ballot issue, Bush said he supported the goals of Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative approved by voters in 1996 and which Latino voters overwhelmingly opposed.
"I support the spirit of no quotas and no preferences," said Bush, who has never come closer to endorsing the initiative. "But it's important to say it's not what you're against but what you're for. In our state I'm for increasing the pool of applicants, opening the door so that more people are eligible to go to the university system."
Bush arrived here determined to show off his brand of "compassionate conservatism," which he hopes will contrast him with the Wilson era and make him an effective candidate in California. But as he waded into the issues, Bush got a taste of a political environment that is far different from that of his home state.
Bush declared that he would wage "a vigorous fight" for California in 2000, a message designed to boost the morale of a Republican Party whose fortunes have fallen sharply in the past two elections. In doing so, he implicitly criticized his father, former president George Bush, and 1996 Republican nominee Robert J. Dole, both of whom effectively wrote off the state in the last two elections.
California's traditional importance in presidential politics has been enhanced in this campaign because the legislature has moved its presidential primaries from June to March 7. That means candidates will spend more time and money earlier in California than ever before. Bush said his focus now is on winning the GOP nomination, but his campaign appeared fixated on sending messages for the general election audience.
The last Republican presidential candidate to carry California was Bush's father in 1988. With help from independent candidate Ross Perot, President Clinton defeated Bush in 1992 and expanded his margin in 1996 against Dole, who won 38 percent of the vote. The party's fortunes reached a low point in 1998 when Democrat Gray Davis beat Republican Dan Lungren by 20 points in the governor's race. Democrats also control both houses of the legislature and won the other major statewide offices last November.
Bush made the Latino vote, which many Republicans believe holds the key to their future, a target of his appeal today. He campaigned at the Del Mar Fair north of San Diego, and he stressed education policies designed to prevent minority students from falling behind their classmates. Arriving in San Diego Monday night, Bush told reporters he had worked hard to court Hispanic voters in Texas and "I intend to do [that] here in the state of California as well."
Assemblyman Bruce Thompson, a Bush supporter who endorsed Proposition 187, says the Republicans have paid a price for their anti-immigrant image. "There's been a backlash in California because of [Proposition 187]," he said, "and as a party we have felt that. If we all had to do it again, we probably would have done it in a different way."
Late this afternoon, Bush met privately with about 100 executives from the entertainment industry at the home of Terry Semel of Warner Brothers and the Warner Music Group. The guest list included such entertainment figures as Warren Beatty, Sherry Lansing, Quincy Jones and Jerry Bruckheimer.
Whereas many Republicans, including some of Bush's rivals, have attacked the entertainment industry for contributing to the culture of violence that some believe led to the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., in April, Bush told reporters before the meeting that he would take a different message to the meeting. "I'm not going to single them out," he told reporters.
Bush spent about 40 minutes with the group. At one point, according to press secretary Karen Hughes, Bush said he would not point the finger only at Hollywood. "My job is not to pit one group against another," Bush said. "My job is not to hold anybody up for score. My job is to appeal to people from all parts of society, to call on all of us to do our part to help usher in the responsibility era."
Earlier, Bush told reporters he believed there is "a correlation between violence in movies and youth violence." But he added, "I also think there's correlation between violence and drug use, alcohol abuse, and lack of parental love. There's a lot of reasons why we have violence in our society."
Four years ago, Dole came to California and delivered a sharp rebuke to Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Asked about that approach, Bush said, "I believe it takes a society as a whole to change the culture."
Bush's visit marks the beginning of a test to see whether his message can woo back voters who have abandoned the GOP. Republican candidates have suffered in part because they found themselves on the wrong side of such issues as abortion, gun control and the environment.
Like others in his party, Bush is at odds with the majority of Californians on many of these issues. He favors a constitutional ban on abortion, signed a bill allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons and has been criticized by environmentalists as too friendly to big business.
But his supporters say his personality and style will help to overcome differences voters may have with him on issues. "Californians haven't nominated at the top of the ticket for quite a while the kind of candidate that my next-door neighbor would like to go out and have a beer with," said state Sen. Jim Brulte, a state co-chairman for Bush. But Democrats are determined to inform voters about where he stands, particularly on social issues. Abortion rights advocates staged small demonstrations at Bush's fund-raising events today.
CAPTION: Texas Gov. George W. Bush gets a kiss from Fleure Fraser, 3, while campaigning at the Del Mar Fair near San Diego.