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A Beauty Contest In Indianapolis

GOP conference draws far more interest than usual

G. W. Bush

INDIANAPOLIS (AllPolitics, Aug. 25) -- The Midwest Republican Leadership Conference that convened here this past weekend traditionally draws few people and garners little media attention.

But with the field wide open for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination -- and not a front-runner in sight -- the rules are different this year.

This year's conference boasted a record turnout of both audience members and party luminaries, along with a large media contingent bored to tears by the lack of political news that August has wrought.

Veterans of '96

It gathered together veterans of the 1996 GOP primary race -- Lamar Alexander, Steve Forbes and Alan Keyes -- as well as former veep Dan Quayle, former veep nominee Jack Kemp, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate committee investigating campaign fund-raising.

The conference served as the first public display of the Republican Party's lineup of potential candidates for 2000. It was a traditional political "beauty contest," if you will, complete with the traditional self-deprecating humor.

Fred Thompson

"Someone came in and asked me about this beauty contest that we were having here today," said Thompson. "Well, I've seen the list of all of us beauty contestants, and I hope they have more than one prize for Mr. Congeniality, because there ain't going to be any beauty awards handed out, I don't think."

Speeches tended to follow the general pattern of mixing 1996 campaign themes along with a call to resist compromising on GOP principles with the Democratic president. The recently signed budget deal drew particular criticism from those who did not have a hand in it.

Kemp got a lot of cheers, though delegates said they were disappointed with his campaign as the vice presidential candidate last year. School choice was one of his themes.

"We will not rest," Kemp said, "until there's a quality education -- public, private, parochial, charter, magnet or whatever -- for every child living in the United States of America, every family in America. We should be their party."

The expectation game

Dan Quayle

No clear "winner" emerged from the pack, nor were any particularly striking new themes trotted out.

But the conference gave potential candidates the chance to meet a set of expectations. Bush, son of former President George Bush, was the conference's featured speaker, but drew only a polite response to a woodenly delivered speech he had given before.

Quayle, perhaps warmed by the hometown crowd, used no notes in his rousing address that many considered the conference's highlight.

"There is a time to compromise," Quayle said, "and there is a time to stand firm. Now, I know that it was a grand photo opportunity at the White House, but I am afraid that the taxpayer once again got the shaft."

Is it too early for all this? Western Republicans don't think so. They're having their conference in October, and they've invited the very same speakers.

CNN's Bruce Morton contributed to this report.

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Monday Aug. 25, 1997

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A Beauty Contest In Indianapolis
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