George W. Bush, the untested Republican presidential front-runner, plunged into the 2000 campaign Saturday by defending his "compassionate conservative" brand of politics as he hoped to rise to the high expectations set for him.
Bush, who leads in presidential polling despite not spending a single day on the campaign trail, began a four-day trip to the presidential proving grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire by boarding his aptly named "Great Expectations" campaign plane.
He received a hero's welcome in Iowa and predicted he would be his party's White House nominee, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara.
The Texas governor's speech, the first major address of his 2000 Republican bid, traced the broad themes of the campaign without offering specific policies, according to advisers with access to drafts.
Bush argued that Republicans can be conservative - cut taxes, trim welfare rolls, reduce crime, improve schools, demand and promote personal responsibility - without being mean about it.
His critics say Bush is poll-driven, ideologically shallow and a natural-born waffler. Bush fostered the criticism by giving vague or conflicting opinions on national issues while overseeing the state's legislative session this year.
Despite his lack of visibility thus far, Bush is enormously popular with GOP leaders and the party rank-and-file.
According to the latest CBS News poll, Bush is the choice of 48 percent of Republican primary voters. His closest competitor, Elizabeth Dole, mustered only 14 percent.
The Texas governor promised voters he would not remain unknown to them for long.
"You can expect someone who talks from their heart. I think you can expect someone named George W. to win this nomination," Bush said, triggering sustained applause.
"I intend to win this nomination - to earn this nomination the old-fashioned way," Bush said.
Bush's trek to Cedar Rapids came one day after he made a private visit to Chicago for a closed-door fund-raiser. Outside the event, dozens of people demonstrated against the governor's opposition to gun control reform.
Bush was the last of 13 major-party presidential hopefuls to begin campaigning for the White House on the road.
Most White House aspirants have traveled with a dozen or so reporters and photographers. Bush came to Iowa with more than 100 of them, and scores of other journalists already had gathered to see him strut his political stuff.
"He has developed a political celebrity status," said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Kayne Robinson. "There are an awful lot of people who would like to meet him and then make up their minds at some point."
"A lot is at stake for Bush on this trip," said a longtime Republican strategist who has been involved in a number of presidential and congressional races.
During the first three months of this year, Bush raised about $7.6 million, nearly as much as the resof the Republican presidential field combined. Gore was the top fund-raiser, taking in $8.9 million.
On Monday he is to travel to New Hampshire and then wrap up his first presidential campaign trip Tuesday with fund-raisers in Boston, Mass., and Greenwich, Conn., both closed to the news media.
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