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'They have not led. We will.''

Gov. George W. Bush accepts the Republican nomination and vows to usher in a new era.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 4, 2000


PHILADELPHIA -- George W. Bush stepped to the front of the Republican Party Thursday night, offering the country a new sense of purpose, moral dignity and political tolerance.

The Texas governor, greeted with wild applause as he accepted the Republican nomination for president, said the nation's economic prosperity offers an opportunity to address challenges such as saving Social Security, beefing up the military and improving public education.

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But Bush said President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, had squandered their chance.

"They had their moment. They have not led. We will," he said. "And now they come asking for another chance, another shot. Our answer? Not this time. Not this year."

Instead, Bush, 54, pledged to usher in a new "era of responsibility" that would restore dignity to the White House following President Clinton's impeachment.

"So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill," he said of the president. "But in the end, to what end?"

At the end of a convention where Gore was rarely mentioned, Bush directly criticized the vice president and promised he would be ready for his attacks. He suggested the Democrat is practicing an old style of politics that voters will reject.

"We are facing something familiar, but they are facing something new," he said. "We are now the party of ideas and innovation."

Bush cast himself as a new style of leader who could break partisan gridlock in Washington. He said he could work with both Republicans and Democrats to protect Social Security and Medicare, strengthen national defense, improve the nation's schools and deliver a major tax cut.

Five and a half years after winning his first election as governor and two years after first pondering a run for the presidency, Bush acknowledged his experiences as a struggling oilman in Midland, Texas, "may lack the polish of Washington."

That, he said, is a plus.

"I don't have enemies to fight," Bush said.

The convention's final night was family night.

Former President George Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush watched their eldest son accept the nomination. So did their next oldest son, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Florida governor cast the state's 80 delegate votes for his brother. He joked that he was the only one there who had his mouth washed out by the former first lady, been spanked by a president of the United States and been given a wedgie by the next president of the United States.

George P. Bush, the 24-year-old son of the Florida governor whose campaign work has turned him into a media star, spoke in English and Spanish shortly before his uncle gave his acceptance speech.

But the spotlight on a cloudy night in Philly was focused on the Texas governor who once wasn't considered the best presidential prospect even in his own family.

"For me," he said, "gaining office is not the ambition of a lifetime, but it is the opportunity of a lifetime. And I will make the most of it."

Before Bush appeared, a 91/2-minute video recounted his life. Titled The Sky's the Limit, it featured Bush bouncing around his Texas ranch, observations from his mother and brief footage of hippies in the '60s as Bush talked about a new era of responsibility.

When the video ended, Bush was at the podium, wearing a dark blue suit and a smile as an American flag filled the video screen behind him.

Bush's speech, running about 50 minutes, was shorter than nomination speeches delivered in recent years by Clinton, Bob Dole and Bush's father. He stuck closely to a prepared text that, like the rest of the convention, offered few surprises and was relentlessly upbeat.

"We will use these good times for great goals," Bush said. "We will confront the hard issues -- threats to our national security, threats to our health and retirement security -- before the challenges of our time become the crises of our children."

One of the few surprises was when Bush brought up abortion, an issue that he has tried to avoid and one that was kept under wraps during the convention.

"I know good people disagree on this issue," he said, "but surely we can agree on ways to value life by promoting adoption and parental notification, and when Congress sends me a bill against partial-birth abortion, I will sign it into law."

At times, the biggest speech Bush has delivered so far sounded more like a State of the Union address to Congress than a political speech aimed at selling voters on what his father used to call "the vision thing."

The twin purposes, defending a laundry list of initiatives while providing voters with a broader sense of purpose, led Bush to jump from subject to subject.

Gore argues that Bush would blow the budget surplus on risky tax cuts. He contends that the Republican's proposal to allow younger workers to invest a portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts instead of Social Security would undermine the entitlement program.

But Bush tossed aside such criticism as so much bickering.

"If my opponent had been there at the moon launch, it would have been a "risky rocket scheme,' " he said. "If he'd been there when Edison was testing the light bulb, it would have been a "risky anti-candle scheme.' "

As he dismissed Gore's complaints, Bush underscored what he considers the most significant difference between their views of government's role as he defined what he means by compassionate conservatism.

"Big government is not the answer, but the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference," he said. "It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity."

It was an emotional day for the Bush family as its political legacy rose another notch with the Texas governor's nomination. Long before the red, white and blue balloons floated from the ceiling of the First Union Center Thursday night, they could hardly contain their excitement.

Jeb Bush said he ate lunch Thursday with his father, who worried that watching his oldest son accept the Republican nomination for president would bring him to tears.

The Florida governor's advice to his dad: "Let it rip."

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