Bush To Grads: Listen To Mom

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President Bush has some advice for the class of 2004: Be on time. Choose your friends carefully. Serve others. Don't give in to cynicism.

But most of all, "Listen to your mother."

The president delivered what he insisted was not another lecture to graduates of Louisiana State University, outlining lessons he says he's learned through five decades of life.

Of his mother, who was a commencement speaker at LSU in 1993, Mr. Bush said she's as outspoken as ever. But he added, "The first voice you heard is always worth listening to."

Mr. Bush also paid tribute to those who excelled academically and reassured those who didn't saying they too can leave with high hopes, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller.

"I speak with some authority here," said the president. "I've seen how things can work out pretty well for a C student."

Mr. Bush won Louisiana comfortably in 2000, but Democrat John Kerry, who has visited the state three times in the past two months, has put the conservative-leaning state in play. Louisiana, which has nine electoral votes, is one of 19 states that Kerry has targeted with a $25 million TV advertising blitz, and the Bush campaign is advertising there as well.

The political overtones of Mr. Bush's visit to Louisiana were not lost on the commencement crowd.

As Mr. Bush received an honorary doctorate, a man in the auditorium shouted, "You're the man!" After a moment of silence, another shouted, "Four more years." Then, after a round of applause, still another yelled, "Five more years!"

Earlier, though, several members of the audience remained seated when the crowd rose to its feet and applauded when the president was introduced.

The president's commencement address sounded familiar campaign themes to convince voters that he is a strong leader.

"We're at war with enemies that have many destructive ambitions, and one overriding goal: They want to spread their ideology of hatred by forcing America to retreat from the world, in weakness and fear," Mr. Bush said. "They're finding that Americans are not the running kind."

Then, in a more serious note, he urged students to strive to be men and women of conviction and moral character, live lives of faith, give back to society, and do the right thing "even when no one is watching."

The president also advised students to choose their friends carefully. "In my job, I got to pick just about everybody I work with," Mr. Bush said. "I've been happy with my choices — although I wish someone had warned me about all of Dick Cheney's wild partying."

After his appearance on the LSU campus, Mr. Bush, who celebrates his twin daughters' college graduations this weekend at parties in Texas and Connecticut, traveled to the New Orleans suburb of Metairie to attend a Republican Party fund-raiser.

Kerry's advisers think Louisiana has become more attractive to Democrats in recent years, particularly because of manufacturing job losses.

"Putting Kerry over the top is a long climb, but it's not out of the question," LSU political science professor Wayne Parent said.

"It makes sense for Bush and Kerry to be here now to see whether in the next four or five months Louisiana is a place worth spending time," Parent said. "This is early in the campaign. President Bush would like to put this state away, and I think Kerry would like to invest some resources if the polls are close."

Right now, state polls show Mr. Bush leading Kerry by 10 percentage points to 15 percentage points.

Both of the state's U.S. senators — John Breaux and Mary Landrieu — are Democrats, as is Gov. Kathleen Blanco. The state went for Bill Clinton in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections. After a meeting Thursday in Washington with Kerry, Breaux said he advised the presumptive Democratic nominee to strike a moderate tone as he seeks support from Louisiana's uncommitted voters.

Blacks, a key Democratic constituency, could account for more than 30 percent of the votes cast on Election Day in Louisiana. Kerry could easily get 98 percent of those votes, according to Elliott Stonecipher, a Louisiana political analyst and demographer who doesn't think Kerry's gambit for Louisiana is that far-fetched.

"Bush wants the South solid and Kerry sees that he really has a shot in Louisiana," Stonecipher said.
  • Lauren Johnston

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