Bush set to launch bid for president

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The Independent Online
THE RACE to succeed Bill Clinton as President of the United States started in earnest yesterday, with 18 months still to go until the 2000 election.

George W Bush, the Republican Governor of Texas and son of the former president, was due to announce his first steps towards the White House last night. Mr Bush is front-runner to face Al Gore, Mr Clinton's Vice- President and the most likely Democratic candidate. But Mr Bush must first beat the other Republican candidates. The Bush camp has tried to damp public speculation about his candidacy, while doing everything it could to make sure the press was aware of his intentions. He called a surprise press conference yesterday after his staff had said he would not discuss his intentions until next week, apparently so he could announce his moves to the press in Texas before the rest of the US.

Mr Bush was expected to set up a presidential exploratory committee, the first step towards declaring his candidacy. He has won plaudits in the state and beyond for what he calls his "compassionate conservativism", which is aimed at distinguishing himself from the rest of the Republican pack.

But the party is seriously divided. Most of the declared or likely candidates are positioning themselves to the right of him, to win support among the part's grassroots activists, and many are focusing their fire on Mr Bush, not the Democrats.

Pat Buchanan, a journalist and former White House official, also declared himself a candidate yesterday. He has set out his position for years as a protectionist, an isolationist and an opponent of abortion.

Mr Buchanan ran unsuccessfully against former president George Bush in 1988 and Robert Dole in 1992. Mr Dole lost to Mr Clinton.

So far, Mr Bush - who was re-elected governor last year by a huge majority - is the favourite for the Republican race. Some polls show either he or Elizabeth Dole, the other Republican front-runner, would beat Mr Gore.

But the election will largely be about money - the ability of candidates to raise huge amounts, keep a big stack through the primaries and then power into the election race.

The primaries, where the parties select their candidates, are compacted into a shorter time period than usual. This will put more emphasis on blocks of states in the South, the Mid-West and the South-West.