George W. Bush saluted Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady and spoke to 300 supporters Wednesday, after meeting with governors from six western states.
The Republican presidential front-runner spoke optimistically to O'Grady, the pilot who was shot down over Bosnia in June 1995. "Tell your colleagues that flew jets for America that there's a new commander-in-chief on the way."
Bush said he would be guided by conservative principles not opinion polls and added, "It's not the role of the federal government to tell states how to run their welfare programs and education."
In an apparent shot at President Clinton, Bush said he would "uphold the dignity and honor of the office."
Bush, who turned 53 Tuesday, was greeted at the airport Tuesday night with a Texas-shaped cake and Utah belt buckle by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt and his family and about a dozen other political supporters.
"I hope to run well out here. I try to remind people I'm from west Texas," Bush said. "I understand how people think out here."
The Texas governor's visit comes just a week after Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch announced his candidacy for president.
"He's a good man. I like him a lot," Bush said. "He's done a great job as senator of Utah and we'll see how it goes."
After delivering a speech to GOP faithful at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, Bush met with Western governors and then, following a tradition for presidential candidates visiting Utah, he planned to confer with Mormon church leaders.
"Bush's visit obviously calls attention to the importance of the WestÂ…and western issues," said Vicki Varela, regional chairwoman of the Bush campaign and Leavitt's deputy chief of staff. "This visit will also be a powerful symbol of western support for Governor Bush."
Bush said if he's elected, his administration would work closely with the state leadership to solve western wilderness issues, since "wilderness area is different from region to region."
Bush hoped to add to his record-setting campaign stash of $36.25 million during a private, $1,000-a-plate luncheon today at the home of developer John Price, Bush's Utah campaign finance chairman. About 150 people are expected.
"I'm overwhelmed and terribly humbled by the outpouring of support," Bush said of his fund-raising thus far, but added, "You don't win campaigns on money alone. It takes a lot of hard work and good ideas."
Bush was to leave this afternoon for Portland.
In addition to Leavitt and Colorado Gov. Bill Owen, who traveled to Utah with Bush from Denver, Jim Geringer of Wyoming, Kenny Guinn of Nevada, Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho and Marc Racicot of Montana planned to meet with Bush today.
Each of the governors has been a strong Bush supporter, said Varela.
"I've been encouraging George Bush to run for many months now an I'm delighted to have him here," said Leavitt, who has said he supports both Bush and Hatch in their bids for the Republican nomination.
Bush called Leavitt "one of my closest friends among all the governors."