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Support and cash flood in for Bush

TIRED BUT triumphant, George W Bush took the day off yesterday after launching his presidential campaign. The Governor of Texas, who is hot favourite to win the Republican nomination next year, confirmed on Saturday what had already been apparent: he will be a candidate for the White House, following in his father's footsteps. "I'm running, and I'm running hard," he said in Iowa, a state that is among the first to choose its candidates next February.

In a carefully orchestrated move, Mr Bush had refrained from campaigning until this weekend. He stayed in the Governor's mansion in Austin amassing funds, endorsements and plaudits from the media. On Saturday he hit Iowa in a trail-blazing performance that was no less well choreographed.

Mr Bush used a campaign speech in Cedar Rapids to sketch out his vision of America, built around the idea of "compassionate conservatism". He called for tax cuts and a reduction in government, but also more compassion for those who have not profited from America's prosperity. "Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our party be run by someone who boasts of a hard heart?" he said.

With expectations riding so high, Mr Bush was scrutinised by hundreds of journalists. But he did not put a foot wrong. At later appearances in Des Moines, he galvanised cheering supporters with another polished performance, leaving them satisfied and eager for the campaign that lies ahead. "I was impressed," said Gordon Canfield, a local Republican. "There's a certain amount of honesty about him. He's a person of integrity."

But the campaign is only just beginning. Today Mr Bush makes his first appearance in New Hampshire, another early primary state. There are plenty of other Republican candidates baying at his heels, none with his cash or his lead in the opinion polls. Some are seeking to discredit him as a son of the establishment and a favourite of the media and political elite.

Al Gore, US Vice-President and the most likely Democratic candidate, will declare his candidacy this week on a trip to his home state of Tennessee. Mr Bush has an impressive lead over Mr Gore, though the campaign is at a very early stage.

Mr Bush's campaign video, played to an audience of supporters yesterday in Des Moines, focuses very heavily on his family, and on shots of him with children. Set to music that could come straight from the film The Bridges of Madison County (which was set in Iowa) it shows a candidate who while clearly conservative is also keen to extend his links with other sections of America: he spoke twice in Spanish during his appearances in Iowa, even though it is a state with a very small Hispanic minority. One of his claims to fame in the party is his ability to deliver the vote of ethnic minorities who have not traditionally voted Republican.

But in Iowa he was playing to a carefully selected audience, most of them either linked with the local party or donors to Republican candidates. There was some criticism by local residents and in the local media that he held only one event - at Cedar Rapids airport - that was open to members of the general public.

Other candidates, including Lamar Alexander, Elizabeth Dole, John Kasich, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer, have been campaigning in Iowa for weeks and have long-established campaign offices there. Only John McCain, the Senator from Arizona, is keeping his distance, preferring to focus his resources on other states. Mr Alexander, by contrast, is putting all of his eggs into Iowa and New Hampshire because his money is running short. Figures released this week in Washington are likely to show Mr Bush's campaign funds rising to between $15m (pounds 9.3m) and $20m, a record for this stage in the campaign. The huge amounts of cash that he has sucked in have caused funding problems for other candidates.

Mr Bush was spending yesterday quietly with his family at their holiday retreat in Kennebunkport on the coast of Maine. George W's father, the former president George Bush, has just celebrated his 75th birthday with a parachute jump.