Sunday, July 18, 1999

Bush campaign rolls into town

Many locals eager to back GOP front-runner

The Cincinnati Enquirer

George W. Bush.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        FORT MITCHELL — The momentum that has put Texas Gov. George W. Bush into a huge lead for the Republican presidential nomination will roll into Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati this week.

        GOP leaders, office holders, fund-raisers, strategists and voters are eagerly backing and touting the campaign of a candidate who seems to have the nomination wrapped up a full year before the Republican National Convention.

        “He has everything going for him,” said Joe Koester, the owner of Herzog Jewelers in Fort Mitchell and a member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee.

        “He brings unity to the party. He has a positive message, he has charisma, he's a leader and he's somebody you can hang your hat on,” Mr. Koester said. “Above all, he's a winner.”

        The son of former President George Bush is scheduled to attend fund-raisers Thursday in Cincinnati and Friday in Louisville. The take at each could reach or even exceed $1 million.

        It won't be Mr. Bush's last campaign stop in Greater Cincinnati, predicts Fort Thomas businessman Jack Steinman, a top Northern Kentucky Republican fund-raiser and strategist for candidates like Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Southgate.

        “Chances are quite good we'll see him again,” said Mr. Steinman, who helped plan Mr. Bush's Cincinnati fund-raiser with Hamilton County GOP leaders and businessmen Bill DeWitt and Mercer Reynolds.

        Mr. Bush has all but buried the other GOP contenders — a field that includes Newport native and social conservative Gary Bauer — with his huge warchest of $37 million, his constant coverage by the media and his support from national party leaders and elected officials.

        Northern Kentucky, where Republicans have become the dominant political party, would appear ripe to back Mr. Bush.

        “I have not seen another candidate that I would like any better,” said Republican John Yeager, a developer and builder who often hosts political fund-raisers at his Edgewood home. “George W. Bush is very attractive for a lot of reasons, including people believe he can win,” he said.

        Local Republican and conservative Democratic voters are frustrated from the 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, when the region went strong for George Bush and Bob Dole while the rest of the state and much of the nation was electing Democrat Bill Clinton to two terms as president.

        They see Mr. Bush as the political savior to return the White House to the GOP.

        “I've certainly detected a lot of support for George W. Bush in Northern Kentucky,” said State Republican Party Vice Chairman Damon Thayer of Crittenden in Grant County.

        As an officer of the party Mr. Thayer said he is refraining from officially endorsing Mr. Bush, though he clearly sees the candidate as the local front-runner.

        “People are excited about him,” Mr. Thayer said. “They see him as man of conviction, they like what he has said about lower taxes and other issues and they think he'll have long coattails like Reagan did and help elect other Republicans to office.”

        Yet there are some on the Repub lican scene who say Mr. Bush may not be conservative enough on some issues. Among these issues is abortion, a major political concern in Northern Kentucky that trickles down from presidential races all the way to local elections.

        Mr. Bush has proclaimed himself against abortions, and he has been endorsed by the National Right to Life as well as televangelist and 1988 GOP presidential contender Pat Robertson.

        But Covington attorney Bob Cetrulo, head of the politically active Northern Kentucky Right to Life, has attacked Mr. Bush for not coming out more strongly against abortion.

        Mr. Bush “is a weak stepsister like his father, who appointed pro-aborts on the (Supreme Court) bench and seduced the pro-life vote,” Mr. Cetrulo said.

        “I don't like what (Mr. Bush) says about abortion,” said Lloyd Rogers of Alexandria, a GOP rogue who recently quit the Campbell County Republican Executive Committee.

        “He says we don't need a litmus test for appointing Supreme Court judges, but if we did we could get rid of Roe versus Wade,” the landmark 1972 case that legalized abortions.

        Mr. Rogers said staunch conservatives are backing Republicans like Mr. Bauer, commentator Pat Buchanan, publisher Steve Forbes and Bob Smith, who has fled the GOP to run as a third-party candidate.

        Some Republicans fear criticism and defections from the far right will hurt Mr. Bush in the same way Mr. Dole was damaged from a fractured GOP in the 1996 election.

        Mr. Thayer said Mr. Bush is opposed to abortion. He pushed for a parental notification law that passed the Texas legislature and has said he will sign a federal law if elected president that would outlaw late term abortions known as partial birth abortions.

        “People have to understand that Pat Buchanan-esque pro-life rhetoric just does not sell in a national election,” Mr. Thayer said. “Even though (Mr. Bush) is not committed to a litmus test on abortion for Supreme Court justices, I sure as heck would rather have him appointing the justices than Al Gore.”

        Former Republican state Sen. Gex (Jay) Williams of Boone County says conservative voters are eager to hear more about Mr. Bush's platform.

        “It's still early and he doesn't have to address every issue yet,” said Mr. Williams, who lost last year's 4th District U.S. House race to Boone County Democrat Ken Lucas.

        “But to get the conservative vote he will have to address some conservative issues,” he said.

        Mr. Williams said Mr. Bush won't be able to win the race running to the center, where he appears to be headed.

        “Everybody says we need a moderate to win, but we lost the last two (presidential) elections with candi dates who tried to run as moderates,” Mr. Williams said.

        “The last time we won with a real conservative was in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan. That's the kind of candidate we need to win,” he said.

        Mr. Williams said for now he likes Mr. Bauer among those in the GOP field. One of the leaders of the local social conservative movement, Mr. Williams introduced Mr. Bauer when he announced his presidential campaign in April at Newport High School.

        “Gary Bauer is the favorite son,” Mr. Williams said. “He addresses conservative issues without offending people.”


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