He has the strong jawline of his father, the firm handshake of a businessman, and a faint West Texas drawl. But as Gov. George W. Bush walked into the stately Driskill Hotel here this week to announce his reelection bid, the crowds of Republican faithful were cheering his accomplishments, not his pedigree.
After three years of Governor Bush's stewardship, the Texas economy is booming, criminal justice laws are tougher, schools are improving, and taxes have been cut by $1 billion. It's a record that has kept Bush's approval ratings high and on track to become the first Texas Republican to be reelected as governor since Reconstruction.
The signs of a deepening Texas realignment from Democratic to Republican rule could hardly be clearer. But the leader of this change is no ideologue. He's a scrupulous moderate, a man who calls himself "conservative and compassionate," and prefers to talk about education and crime rather than abortion and school prayer.
It is an approach that plays well here and puts Bush high on the list of possible Republican White House contenders in 2000.
Political analysts say he is one of a handful of Republican governors who find the key to long-term success is simply making government work.
"As states leave behind these crises over the economy, which Texas had for a number of years, people have turned their focus to social stuff," says Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report in Washington. In the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections this fall, she says, "Those governors focused on the economy, but they weren't talking about slashing huge taxes. They were looking at petty annoyances [such as New Jersey's high auto-insurance rates]."
Those who know him say that Bush is not the type of politician who consults polls to tell him which position to take.
"He's very clear about what he wants - and that is what is best for Texas," says Albert Hawkings, budget director on the governor's staff. Bush is hardworking, he adds, starting the day at 7:30 a.m. and often staying well into the evening.
But some say this moderate stance has put him in poor standing with social conservatives, particularly those on the Christian right.
"I think Bush is like his father," says David Prindle, a political scientist at the University of Texas here. "He doesn't care much about social issues. And ... the social conservatives have never been pro-Bush."
On the fiscal front, Bush hasn't passed through his first three years as an elected official unscathed. He championed a major overhaul of the Texas tax system, pushing a huge property tax cut in combination with hikes in sales and business taxes. It was resoundingly defeated.
BUT what has kept Bush largely insulated from attacks within his own party is his overall success, Mr. Prindle says. During Bush's tenure, hundreds of state and local officials have switched to the GOP. Two of the state's top Democrats have announced their retirements this fall, and one of them, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, has even endorsed Bush over his own protg, Land Commissioner Gary Mauro.
For the young, well-dressed masses at the Driskill ballroom here, some of them carrying toddlers, Bush's approach has been crucial to the state's realignment.
"He's charismatic, and he tells more than just what Republicans stand for, but for what the broader society cares about," says Rachel, a state employee who asked that her last name not be printed. "Being Hispanic, we typically vote Democrat, but I've become a Republican supporter because of Bush."
Still, even a moderate like Bush pays close attention to the goals of Christian conservatives. In other states, this constituency has fielded its own candidates when the Republican choice was not deemed conservative enough. The result can be a party split and a loss for an otherwise strong GOP candidate.
One issue that helps in this regard is Bush's long-term support for school vouchers, which would allow Texans to pay for tuition at private or religious schools with public funds.
With a $13 million war chest, Bush says he's focused on winning this race. But he's keeping his presidential option open, refusing to promise to serve a full term if reelected.
Call Him 'G.W.'
Born: George W. Bush, 1946.
Education: BA, Yale University. MBA, Harvard Business School.
Early careers: F-102 pilot, Texas Air National Guard. Founded Bush Exploration, an oil and gas exploration firm, in1975. Led a group of partners in purchasing the Texas Rangers in 1989. Served as the managing partner of the team before stepping into the governor's office in January 1995.
Early political inklings:
President of his fraternity at Yale. Ran for US Congress in 1978; defeated by Kent Hance. Served as an adviser and speechwriter for his father's presidential campaign.
Married: Laura Welch, 1977.
Children: 16-year-old twin girls, Barbara and Jenna, a dog, Spot, and two cats, India and Cowboy.