Bush: 'The people have heard my message'

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The Independent US

Despite some last-minute nerves and a frantic chase across four swing states in the last 24 hours of the campaign, George W Bush was due home in Texas for a hero's welcome last night as his supporters prepared what they hope will be a triumphant presidential election victory bash.

Despite some last-minute nerves and a frantic chase across four swing states in the last 24 hours of the campaign, George W Bush was due home in Texas for a hero's welcome last night as his supporters prepared what they hope will be a triumphant presidential election victory bash.

The Republican candidate may only be holding on to the most razor-thin of advantages in the final opinion polls, but his strategy in the closing stages has been to ooze confidence and talk as though the keys to the White House were already his.

"I trust the people. I trust they have heard our message," Mr Bush said yesterday, as he set off on a circuit from Florida through Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa and Arkansas, before heading home to Austin. "And tomorrow I believe we're going to have a good day."

The relaxed veneer he has managed to put on the frantic, get-out-the-vote effort is typical of the way he has conducted the whole campaign, and contrasts starkly with the hyperactive gyrations and imprecations of his rival, Al Gore.

Mr Bush has based his appeal to voters almost entirely on the sense that nothing will bother him much in office, that he will talk congenially to get people on his side, but that he won't be paying so much attention that he will provoke acrimonious fights over the nitty-gritty of policy-making and worldwide diplomacy.

The strategy has worked brilliantly, perhaps fitting into a zeitgeist in which Americans feel confident in their prosperity and are unwilling either to face up to their problems or to the possibility that attentive, pro-active political leadership still has a role to play.

It has enabled Mr Bush to convert many of his obvious weaknesses into strengths, and given him the benefit of the doubt on many issues that have ultimately caused much more discomfort for Mr Gore than for him. Think he doesn't have the experience for the job? Hey, that's what advisers are for.

Think he's not smart enough? Well, at least he won't rock the boat. As one young Californian voter asserted this week: "You don't need to know much to be president."

Mr Bush has made far more blunders than Mr Gore on the campaign trail, but the difference is that he has been allowed to get away with them. He said in the first presidential debate that the Democrats were outspending the Republicans. Flagrantly untrue. He said he had supported a patients' bill of rights in Texas when he had opposed it. Mr Bush flubbed significant factual details on everything from social security - the US pensions system which he seemed not to realise was a federal programme - to the judicial fate of the three white men sentenced for dragging an African-American to death in his own home state of Texas.

But almost nobody accused Mr Bush of duplicity: because he doesn't seem all that bright and regularly mangles his sentences, it was assumed in every case that he had simply made an innocent slip. As for his intelligence, he set the bar of expectations so low that, in his own words, all he had to do to impress people was say his own name without stumbling.

Ronald Reagan was called the "Teflon president", but Mr Bush has truly been the Teflon candidate. He got away with allegations of cocaine abuse - never entirely denied - and with his appearance at the openly racist, homophobic Bob Jones University in South Carolina. By the time an old conviction for drink-driving came to light late last week, nobody seemed to care any more.

And when he spoke last Friday at another right-wing Christian college where gays are routinely expelled, this one in Michigan, nobody raised so much as an eyebrow.

And so the - soft - drinks are on ice, the mariachi bands and gospel choirs are ready to take their positions on the lawn outside the Texas State Capitol, and all over Austin the banners are being prepared to hail the victory of a local boy made good.

Could he still lose? You betcha. But in his reading of the media-political landscape, Mr Bush is hoping that by looking like a winner he will create the momentum to make his dream a reality. And wishful thinking has already taken him further than most people would have ever dared imagine.

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