Bush evokes Bullock's memory to show how he can be bipartisan

Wednesday, October 11th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Sam Attlesey / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – The spirit of Bob Bullock hangs heavy over the race for the White House.

In formal speeches, TV talk shows and town hall meetings, Republican George W. Bush repeatedly evokes the memory of the late Democratic lieutenant governor of Texas.

The frequent references to the one-time highest-ranking Democrat in the state are part of Mr. Bush's concentrated campaign to appeal to independents and conservative Democrats by claiming that he is a "different kind of Republican" who can end partisan gridlock in Washington.

As the nip-and-tuck presidential contest enters the final month, Mr. Bush has intensified his effort to appeal to non-Republican voters.

Campaigning Tuesday in Democratic nominee Al Gore's home state of Tennessee, the Texas governor announced a list of current and former Democratic elected officials from across the country who have endorsed him and will serve on his national steering committee.

"As president, I will reach across party lines and pass meaningful legislation to empower people, not Washington, D.C.," he vowed.

Even as he was making the announcement, four former and current Democratic officeholders from Texas were barnstorming through such crucial battleground states as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, spreading the word to swing voters that Mr. Bush practices bipartisanship.

Democratic partisans who support Mr. Gore questioned the loyalty of the Texas Democratic band of Bush backers, accusing them of being political opportunists.

Some Texas Democrats are expected to be present at Wednesday night's presidential debate in North Carolina just as they were at the first forum in Boston last week.

Some of the most active Lone Star State Democrats for Mr. Bush have been: state Sen. Ken Armbrister of Victoria, Rep. Rob Junell of San Angelo, former state Rep. Mark Stiles of Dallas, former Dallas County Democratic Party chairman Sandy Kress and former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill.

"You can bet your bottom dollar that there have been arms twisted and promises made to these people," said Molly Beth Malcolm, the head of the Texas Democratic Party.

She said it was "silly" for Mr. Bush to claim that he brought bipartisanship to state government.

"This Texas Legislature was bipartisan before George Bush ever got there. It's not something he created," said Ms. Malcolm, adding that she doubts the Democratic band of Bush backers is having a big effect on swing voters outside Texas.

But nonpartisan analysts said the tactic of using Texas Democrats to help Mr. Bush and the repeated references to Mr. Bullock are probably effective in states that are still up for grabs.

"While most people outside of Texas have never heard of Bob Bullock, the theme is a good one for Bush because it is clear Americans are tired of partisan bickering and ideological bomb throwing," said presidential scholar Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"They like someone who is a natural coalition and consensus builder. And the better Bush can make that case, the better it serves him. And having a bunch of Texas Democrats go around to make that case is better than just having him assert it," he said, adding, however, that Mr. Bush needs to mention his bipartisan approach in the two remaining debates.

Bill Miller, an Austin consultant who works for both Democratic and Republican clients, said that while an undecided truck driver in a battleground state such as Wisconsin may not know who Mr. Bullock was, Mr. Bush's references to working with Democrats "resonates with people because they do know what legislative gridlock in Washington is."

Mr. Bush refers to the late lieutenant governor as "a crusty veteran of Texas politics and my great friend. We worked side by side. He endorsed my re-election [for governor]." And he tells campaign crowds that Mr. Bullock, who was almost undoubtedly the most powerful politician in state government, encouraged him to run for president.

Mr. Ornstein says there is at least one reason for voters to be skeptical when Mr. Bush uses Mr. Bullock as a symbol of his ability to get along with Democrats.

"Is there a Bob Bullock in Washington?" asked the analyst. "Could you find a figure like that who will be a mentor and a protector and an ally on the other side?

"It's going to be hard to find people who have serious sway who are going to be willing to do what Bullock did for Bush."