With much multi-ethnic hoopla, Texas Gov. George W. Bush is marching through California, hoping to establish himself firmly as a national candidate. As CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, the crowds are large and the candidate confident.
In the state that's considered the biggest electoral prize, Bush is already predicting victory in 2000.
"I intend to win California in the general election," he told one audience. "I intend to become the next president of the United States."
Hot-button issues which have hobbled California's GOP have become his fuzzy mantra: compassionate conservatism; taking no clear stands on illegal immigration; affirmative action. California is a stronghold of President Bill Clinton, and Bush is clearly stepping back from the Republican hard-line by staking out a feel-good middle ground.
He explained that "I'm running because I want my political party to match a conservative mind with a compassionate heart."
State Republicans are jumping on the bandwagon, but will other Californians?
"They will see that George W's stand on abortion, on guns, and on the environment really is a little out-of-step with those of the California general electorate," notes political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "That's when it can begin to get dicey for George W. Bush."
Up-close-and-personal politicking is almost impossible in a state as huge, populous, and diverse as California. Bush concentrated on hitting both the big media markets and the big donors during this first campaign swing through the state, raising $2.3 million at a Los Angeles fundraiser Tuesday.
Bush also made a surprise foray in traditional Democratic territory - Hollywood. He met behind closed doors with more than 100 entertainment moguls, even well-known liberals like actor Warren Beatty, tapping into disenchantment here with White House criticism of violent movies and TV since the massacre in Littleton, Colo.
"All of us need to work together to change the culture. One industry alone doesn't bear all the brunt - all of us in society must do so," Bush said.
It's rare for a candidate to be so far ahead so early in the race. But like Bush's father learned after the Gulf War, when you re riding so high, there's almost nowhere left to go but down.