Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Choreographed Candidacy

George W. Bush's tightly choreographed campaign excludes all but the friendliest media

By Robert Bryce

JANUARY 3, 2000:  Gov. George W. Bush isn't a candidate, he's a performer. And the latest staging of The Man Who Would Be President happened last Friday in the lobby of his campaign headquarters at Third and Congress. The occasion was Bush's announcement that he would -- surprise! -- be on the Texas ballot as a presidential candidate. Every aspect of the event was choreographed for visual and theatrical effect. A troupe of mariachis -- singing in Spanish -- were stationed at the top of a three-story staircase. The claque -- made up of Bush campaign staffers and other allies -- was stationed nearby on the third-floor balcony, ready to clap and cheer at every opportunity.

Bush's entrance -- on the third floor, giving him plenty of time and locations from which to wave to the crowd as he made his way down to the first-floor podium -- was also designed for maximum theatrical effect. To drive home the image of power, Bush was followed by all of the statewide elected officials. The Republican coterie, from statuesque Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs to diminutive Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, then formed a semicircle behind Bush as he delivered his stump speech to a crowd of about 200 supporters.

Referring to the all-Republican group behind him, he said that the GOP has taken over Texas "because our message is conservative, but it's compassionate." Then, talking about votes and the pivotal nature of Texas in the electoral process, Bush told the crowd, "It's important to have a base, and Texas is rock solid. I can't tell you how grateful I am." After a few other comments, Bush signed the paper declaring his candidacy.

The event was followed by a short press conference during which the governor delivered most of his standard responses. Aside from a few sticky questions about federal immigration policy, air pollution in Texas, and his campaign's efforts to shut down a pesky Web site operator that has a less-than-flattering attitude toward him, Bush performed nicely. Then his handlers hustled him back to the Governor's Mansion and ushered reporters out the door.

While other candidates, like Bill Bradley and John McCain, are trying to get attention and coverage, Bush's campaign is busy trying to limit access to Bush and keep him away from reporters. The campaign has made a concerted effort to limit Bush's appearances in Austin ever since the Aug. 18 press conference when Bush got hit with a spate of questions about the Funeralgate scandal. And it has made certain that only the most favored reporters are given access. Even mainstream publications, like the Christian Science Monitor, are being denied interviews with Bush. The stage management plan and limited media access appear to be part of the campaign's plan to minimize the chance that Bush will say something dumb, while building on his image as the front-runner, and making him look presidential even before the primaries start.

But all the posturing and stage management could backfire; it seems to be costing him support in New Hampshire, where McCain has pulled even with him. Last month, Lynn Vavreck, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, warned that Bush is "campaigning as if he feels he is entitled to the nomination." The election is still a long way off, but that aura of entitlement could be Bush's undoing.

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