A round of cliches for Bush supporters

Final Day: Republicans
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The Independent US

He'd been on the road for 16 gruelling months. He was locked in the closest presidential race in 40 years. He had been living in a hyperactive whirl of advisers, pollsters, spin-doctors and policy experts.

He'd been on the road for 16 gruelling months. He was locked in the closest presidential race in 40 years. He had been living in a hyperactive whirl of advisers, pollsters, spin-doctors and policy experts.

How did George W Bush feel, now the big day had arrived and he was at last back home in Texas? "I feel great," he told a modest crowd of cheering supporters after his campaign plane, Responsibility One, touched down in Austin.

And, at least until election day nerves set in yesterday, he looked it.

Sure, he was a little tired, but Mr Bush finished this election season the way he has played it all along - nonchalant, almost to the point of disengagement; quietly confident, if not a little cocky; ready with a half-dozen empty rhetorical phrases, but offering little of substance about his plans for America's future.

While Al Gore talked middle-class tax-cut numbers and senior-citizen prescription drug benefits late into the night in Florida, Mr Bush contented himself at his final rally on Monday night with a few rousing words, a couple of handshakes and chaste hugs for his supporters, and a last wave alongside his wife, Laura, before heading to bed at the Governor's mansion.

This is the candidate he wants to be: an advocate-lite for a Washington government-lite. His supporters lapped it up, forgiving the clichés ("I'm proud to be a Texan", "I've got a great wife", "We crossed the finish line in a sprint") and cheered his predictions of victory.

The scene at the airport was a picture of the America Mr Bush wants to project: lots of clean-cut young men, a sprinkling of big-haired Texas grande dames, a contingent of cub scouts and, boogying prominently to the canned soft-rock music, a single token African-American.

"W stands for Winner", said the banners. As the candidate appeared, supporters raised the middle three fingers of their right hands, a variant on the Churchill V for victory sign, adapted for the man who likes to go by his middle initial.

The Republican candidate took evident pleasure in having trampled on his rival's home turf in his final campaign swing - Tennessee, Mr Gore's home, and Bill Clinton's Arkansas.

And he insisted that the grandest electoral prize of all, California, was within his grasp despite most polls showing it is a lock for Mr Gore. "You watch what's going to happen in the great state of California tomorrow," he said, to the loudest cheers of his address.

Mr Bush's home stretch was not without his customary gaffes. In Wisconsin, he referred to the death tax as the "death penalty", an unfortunate slip for a man who has signed 145 execution orders as Governor of Texas. In Arkansas, he said it was a scandal pensioners had to choose "between their prescription drugs and medicine".

Before voting at the Travis County courthouse in downtown Austin, Mr Bush chatted to reporters, saying he intended to have a quiet day playing with his pets, eating with his family and having a nap. He is not expected to emerge until either a victory party, when live bands will play and a light show begins, or he is forced to a sobering acknowledgement of narrow defeat.

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