Bush Takes His Turn on 'Oprah'

Tuesday, September 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — George W. Bush stepped in Tuesday and gave Oprah what Al Gore didn't — a kiss — and told the talk show diva that the public's biggest misconception of him is that ``I'm running on my daddy's name.''

Bush, the Republican presidential candidate eager to woo back women voters, took his turn in Oprah Winfrey's easy chair a week and a day after rival Gore courted her and the 22 million viewers — most of them women — who tune into her syndicated TV program every week.

Asked what things he knows for sure, Bush said: ``That there is a God. ... That I'm sitting here talking to you. That I love my wife.''

The Texas governor betrayed an ambivalence about the tight race he's locked in, telling Winfrey he nonetheless feels called to the White House.

``Life would be so much simpler to be in Texas with my wife and not putting our children through the meat grinder of public opinion. So, yeah, there's a big call and I'm deeply concerned about the future of the country,'' Bush said.

Asked what was the public's ``biggest misconception'' of him, Bush replied:

``Probably I'm running on my daddy's name. That, you know, if my name were George Jones I'd be a country and western singer.''

Winfrey pressed, didn't some small part of him want to ``restore'' the Bush family to the White House? Bush's father was president from 1989 until Bill Clinton and Gore defeated him in 1992.

``Not even in the teeniest, tiniest part,'' Bush insisted. '' ... Basically, what you're saying is, Are you running just because of revenge? Revenge is such a negative thought. I'm running for positive reasons. There are better ways to uphold the honor of my family and that is to be a decent loving citizen.''

He grew teary-eyed talking about the birth of his twin 18-year-old daughters.

In a restaurant across the street, reporters were invited to watch Laura Bush watching her husband's interview. She and a noisy gaggle of female supporters sat beneath a giant banner that read, ``W stands for women.''

As ``Oprah'' came on the restaurant TVs, they tapped their wristwatches and chanted, ``It's time for us to win.'' They booed when Winfrey mentioned her interview last week with Gore.

Gore had greeted a disappointed Winfrey with a handshake. The vice president, the first politician Winfrey ever invited onto a show that's run 15 seasons, won flattery and a thumbs-up from the wealthy entertainment mogul, who has given $12,000 to Democrats since 1992.

Audrey Pass, a spokeswoman for Winfrey's production company, said it is anyone's guess whether Winfrey will make an endorsement in the presidential race. For now, Pass said, ``Oprah's not giving any indication of her preference.''

On Tuesday, Bush made a point of bussing her cheek.

``Thanks for the kiss,'' Winfrey cooed.

``My pleasure,'' he grinned.

Winfrey, probing for the personal over policy, asked him to identify a time when he was overwhelmed with self doubt. Bush said it was when he went East to prep school, which led to Yale and then Harvard.

``I remember thinking how brilliant all the other kids were,'' said Bush, who has battled questions of his intellectual gravitas in this campaign.

``Eventually, I realized smarts are not only whether or not you can write well or whether or not you can do calculus, but smarts also is instinct and judgment and competence.''

He continued:

``I've got a lot of experience, I'm well educated. But I'm certainly not the kind of person who talks down to people because of my education. ... You can't inspire and unite by thinking that you're smarter than everyone else.''

Asked about why he stopped drinking at age 40, he acknowledged his wife encouraged the move but said it was never a ``you or Jack Daniels'' moment. ``I think she got disappointed in some evenings. ... There were some times when she said 'You need to think about what you are doing,' '' Bush said.

Bush and Gore are crisscrossing paths these days and courting the same middle-class voters. This week, with his wife at his side, Bush is focused on deflating Gore's recent surge among women voters.

In polls, women voters indicating a preference have given Gore his strongest advantage in months. A Gallup survey released on Monday showed the vice president leading Bush among women by 17 points.

And, in the latest poll from the Pew Research Center, Gore significantly leads among women on the issues that they consider most important: health care, keeping Social Security and Medicare financially sound and education.

From ``Oprah,'' the Bushes were headed to Chicago's gritty South side and the Beethoven Elementary School, then on to the Henry Clay School in Lexington, Ky., for a forum on school safety.

Outside Winfrey's Harpo Productions studios, a few dozen gun control activists, environmentalists, supporters of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, and other anti-Bush protesters gathered.

Nader's supporters, who also showed up for Gore's appearance, said they were lobbying for their own slot on Winfrey's show.