He sounded almost Presidential. This guy could win

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The Independent US

When George W Bush walked away from the microphone at the end of his speech and the cameras drew back to show the whole glorious confusion of red, white and blue, there was just the briefest of silences in the theatre. Then, one of the platform guests said: "You know, this guy could win." "Yes, he could," agreed one of the others, subdued. "It all depends on what Al Gore can do."

When George W Bush walked away from the microphone at the end of his speech and the cameras drew back to show the whole glorious confusion of red, white and blue, there was just the briefest of silences in the theatre. Then, one of the platform guests said: "You know, this guy could win." "Yes, he could," agreed one of the others, subdued. "It all depends on what Al Gore can do."

The speakers were no friends of George Bush, still less of the Republican Party. They and their audience of a couple of hundred were mainly young, left of centre and alternative types, gathered at the Annenberg Centre at the University of Pennsylvania to watch Mr Bush's acceptance speech. The panel of six was there to deliver instant comment as the speech rolled.

So boisterous and opinionated was the audience, though, that the commentators were hardly needed. The audience was taking George W's words apart all by itself, with laughter and jeers. When Mr Bush said that America's prosperity, if not properly used, could be "like a drug in our system", there were raucous guffaws - "Speak for yourself!" "He's pro-drugs", they yelled cheerily, referring to Mr Bush's half-admitted use of cocaine.

The audience ridiculed some of his less felicitous phrases - "The cold war thawed" attracted whistles, while "The politics of the road- block ... the philosophy of the Stop sign" was met by looks of blank incredulity.

"OK, now shut up," they muttered wearily after he had chanted his promise "They have not led; we will" for the third time. And when Mr Bush tried to steal the Democrats' thunder by pledging "no change, no reduction, no way" to the state pension system, someone shouted: "Read my father's lips", alluding to the 1988 election promise given by George W's father: "Read my lips, no new taxes". Breaking that promise may have cost George senior a second term in office.

His appeal to Texan loyalty also attracted a dusty reception. To his warning: "I say to those [ie Al Gore] who would malign our state for political gain, 'Don't mess with Texas'," a Green Party supporter called out amid general hilarity, "You don't have to: it's such a f***ing mess already."

All of a sudden, though, the mood changed. The turning point came when Mr Bush paraphrased Franklin D Roosevelt against Al Gore. "My opponent," he said, "leads the party of FDR, but the only thing he has to offer is fear itself." This was an attack on Mr Gore's frequent use of the word "risky" to describe some of Mr Bush's proposals, and it was received in an almost shocked silence, so truly had it hit home.

Moments later, he took up one of their causes when he spoke of inner-city children who believed they were "trapped and hopeless" and called for an end to what is in effect segregation - economic or racial, he did not specify.

By now, the audience had quietened; people were listening. Again, there was a brief silence, broken only when Mr Bush urged: "The President must be responsible and seen to uphold the honour and dignity of the Oval Office."

"Translation," someone interrupted: "No blow jobs in the Oval Office." But the sting of the sceptics' ire had been drawn. There was just a tinge of resentment in the hall, as people started to drift away and a panellist said it was "a speech that sounded like Clinton". "People [ie Democrats] are kidding themselves," he said, "if they think it won't work."

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