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Gary's Gamble

National | If Gary Bauer-shrewd, practical Washington political operative that he is-were a betting man, it's doubtful he'd be behind a longshot presidential candidate. He's not a betting man. But he is deeply involved in such a campaign, as the candidate.

Issue: "Chaos in Colorado," May 1, 1999

in Newport, Ky. - The writer Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. Last week, Gary Bauer proved you can go home again-with CNN, a police escort, and various political luminaries in tow. On a dreary, drizzly Wednesday morning, Mr. Bauer went home to Newport, Ky., to announce officially that he wants a new home. Amid waving flags and screaming students, he told a crowd of about 1,000 in his old high school gym that he wants to move into the White House. To residents of Newport, a gray little steel town just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, it's hard to imagine one of their own as president of the United States. To the national press, it's hard to imagine this particular Newporter as president. The Los Angeles Times has described Mr. Bauer as "Pat Robertson without the charm," while the Cox News Service pilloried him as the candidate "running to save the Republican Party's soul-and everyone else's while he's at it." But for a day, at least, the doubters were irrelevant. Mr. Bauer pulled into town with a full police escort. He picked up his mother from the little house he grew up in and accompanied her to prayers and devotions at the First Baptist Church downtown. Then it was on to Newport High School, packed with people clapping in time to country tunes. Cheerleaders got the crowd chanting his name. The band struck up "God Bless America." Students pulled on "Bauer Power" T-shirts to cover shirts touting Jack Daniels and Metallica. At last the big moment arrived, and the candidate himself took the podium, accompanied by the strains of "Forty-Hour Week" by Alabama. Suddenly, some of the students turned doubtful. "When he first came in, I was like, 'This guy's gonna be president?'" said one band member, sweating in her heavy uniform. "He's so short! He doesn't look like a president. But then he started talking, and he really convinced me. I think it was, like, the best thing I ever heard." A nearby teacher agreed. "He had me in tears," she said, "and that's hard to do." While other candidates announce their intentions in Iowa or New Hampshire, on Larry King Live, or on the Internet, for Gary Bauer, Newport was the place that made sense. His views on morality and politics, after all, were formed in this town once known nationwide for its immorality and crooked politicians. Until the early 1960s, Newport was a notorious center for illegal gambling. Glittering casinos, run by mob bosses in Cleveland, attracted high rollers from throughout the Midwest. Top-name entertainers-Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey-performed in "dinner clubs" that rivaled the opulent kitsch of Las Vegas. Seedier joints with names like Glenn's Rendezvous featured strippers as their live entertainment. Government officials either looked the other way or took an active part in the law breaking. When a photographer from the Louisville Courier-Journal showed up at a casino one night looking for a story, he snapped some pictures of a surprised George Gugel, Newport's chief of police. Chief Gugel promptly arrested the photographer and destroyed his film. Such corruption barely raised an eyebrow in a town that relied on the millions of dollars flowing through its underground economy. At ground level, however, the drab, blue-collar life of most Newport residents was far from glitzy or exciting. Drawn by jobs in the local brewery or steel mills, semi-literate families from Appalachia poured into Newport in search of work. But bars on every corner-usually filled with card tables and prostitutes-made it all too easy for the family breadwinner to lose everything he'd worked for all week. Fathers lost jobs, mothers bore the brunt of their husbands' rage, and teenagers dropped out of high school to help families make ends meet. The cycle of poverty and corruption seemed endless. Embarrassed by bad press in popular magazines like Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post, the town's Ministerial Association finally moved to clean up Newport. In 1961, after four years of grass-roots mobilization, reformers created a third party and fielded a slate of candidates to run on the Switch to Honesty ticket. The reform movement caught the attention of a young Gary Bauer, then just a sophomore in high school. He volunteered to stuff envelopes, distribute yard signs, and canvass door-to-door in search of votes. His enthusiasm wasn't surprising, because he'd seen the effects of Newport's vice up close: His own father was an alcoholic who bounced from job to job and sometimes became verbally abusive with his mother. Through an unlikely series of events, the Switch to Honesty ticket won in 1961 and all but eliminated gambling in Newport. Gary Bauer never forgot that experience. Throughout his subsequent career moves-law school at Georgetown, various positions in the Reagan Administration, heading up the Family Research Council-the lessons of Newport loomed large. The themes and strategies in his present campaign echo his earliest political involvement. For starters, his lasting antipathy toward the Establishment: Back in Newport, local leaders like Chief Gugel always professed to be shocked-shocked-when confronted with the vice in their town. Yet, with Newport's business community supporting the gambling syndicate, the politicians never backed up their words with action. Mr. Bauer sees today's GOP in much the same terms. In the last two elections, he told WORLD, "We really failed in the effort to put the right words into the mouths of candidates [who] at the end of the day really didn't believe them.... We keep hoping that some so-called mainstream candidate is going to make the case effectively for us." To Mr. Bauer, such candidates don't speak for the majority of Americans. Just as most Newport residents seemed to support gambling until a former pro football player emerged to lead the opposition, Mr. Bauer believes popular "support" for abortion will erode when leaders confront the issue head-on. We lose on the abortion issue, he says, "not because the American people reject what we believe. They're not really hearing an eloquent or articulate case made for what we believe. "In some ways the [Republican] Party is rhetorically pro-life and operationally pro-choice. When you actually look at what it does, it has no plan, it invests no political capital in actually getting to the place where protection could be restored to our unborn children." He insists that a Bauer administration would start spending political capital during its very first week in office. First, he says, he'd send a Constitutional amendment to Congress-though he concedes that passage, at this point, looks like a long shot. Second, he'd submit legislation defining unborn children as persons under the 14th Amendment. He believes such a bill would have a "good and decent" chance of passage. Third, he would immediately begin the search for Supreme Court appointees who would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. "No judge will serve in my administration or be appointed in my administration if he is either a bigot or if he would not protect America's unborn children," he vows. "Abortion on demand can be ended in the next five years," Mr. Bauer predicts. "The next president will have probably two, if not three, Supreme Court [appointments]. All we have to do is make sure those appointments are right. If those appointments had been right under Ronald Reagan and George Bush, this tragedy would be basically over." The hard-to-win constitutional amendment becomes "superfluous" if Roe is overturned, he adds. That, of course, depends on how Roe is overturned. Even staunch conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia does not appear to buy the argument that the constitution implies a fundamental right to life for unborn children; he seems inclined to allow the states to write their own abortion laws. That could mean a patchwork of laws: some abortion-on-demand states, some states with various regulations on abortions, some abortion-free states. That still leaves a huge cultural task, and the Human Life Amendment would be far from superfluous. But if Mr. Bauer challenges the GOP Establishment with his pro-life passion, he sends it into a virtual fit with some of his economic views. True to his Kentucky roots, he tends to be more populist in his trade and budget priorities than are fellow challengers George W. Bush and Steve Forbes. For instance, although both Mr. Bauer and Mr. Forbes favor a flat tax, the Forbes version would allow businesses to write off their capital investments immediately, reducing their taxes to zero in some cases. To Mr. Bauer, that values business more highly than children. His plan, which he will introduce in a few weeks, will "allow sizable write-offs for families to invest in children," because, he explains, "that's a form of capital, too, that we ought to be encouraging." Unlike many Republicans, Mr. Bauer is not eager to overturn the Social Security system. "Where I come from," he explains, "Social Security guaranteed that elderly people wouldn't live in poverty anymore.... I don't think we accomplish anything by sounding hostile to something that has helped so many of America's elderly." For that reason, he opposes complete privatization, preferring instead to cut payroll taxes by just 20 percent and allow families to invest that money as they see fit. Likewise, Mr. Bauer has already staked out a position on trade that some in the GOP have criticized as protectionist. "I am generally in favor of free trade," Mr. Bauer told WORLD, "but I want it to be fair, and I believe there are times when moral concerns or national security concerns trump it." In what he called "an easy example," Mr. Bauer said as president he would prevent American businesses from buying gum arabic-an ingredient in fruit drinks-from the Sudan, a country that oppresses its Christian minority. Bottling companies and grocery wholesalers would oppose such a move, but Mr. Bauer insists "there are times when an economic need for a product ought to take the back seat to a larger moral concern." Given the issue on which he cut his political teeth, no one would have accused Mr. Bauer of being a gambler-until he announced his presidential campaign, that is. Hovering around 1 percent in most polls, the Bauer campaign looks, at first glance, like the ultimate crapshoot. But Mr. Bauer believes he has a campaign strategy for defying the odds. He professes to be unconcerned with the poll numbers so far in advance of the first primaries and caucuses. Instead, he's focused on getting his message to as many voters as possible. In the days after Newport, his schedule includes dozens of appearances in Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and California. "The great thing about this process is that when I go into New Hampshire, I am not just speaking at churches," Mr. Bauer said. "I am going in and doing town meetings where a majority of people in the audience are not going to share my faith perspective. A majority of them may be unchurched. And I am finding that the typical speech I give does talk about economics, foreign affairs, and China, but also deals with the virtue deficit and the breakdown of reliable standards of right and wrong. These audiences respond to that." Spreading such a message is not inexpensive. In fact, says Mr. Bauer, it costs about $20,000 a day just to keep the lights burning. But thanks to his longtime association with Focus on the Family and the formidable mailing list of the Family Research Council, he's been able to raise $1.4 million in the first quarter of 1999. By mid-year, he hopes to have brought in as much as $10 million, putting him in the top tier of Republican candidates. If he can raise the price of admission to join that elite group, Mr. Bauer believes his campaign will have enough momentum to surprise the pros. He sees the crowded field being winnowed down to just three candidates: an Establishment figure like George W. Bush, a moderate candidate such as Elizabeth Dole, and a conservative. He hopes to fill that final slot himself, of course. From there, it's unclear just how Mr. Bauer might broaden his appeal sufficiently to win the nomination. But even a top-three finish could be viewed as a victory. If he can elbow his way into the big leagues, Mr. Bauer could play a pivotal role in deciding which of the other two candidates wins the nomination. That, in turn, could result in a stronger Republican platform and a greater emphasis on family issues in the next administration. Mr. Bauer, of course, refuses to concede that he would be satisfied with such a result. He says he's in the race to win-not simply to place or show. Of all the things he learned in Newport, the most lasting lesson may be that there's no such thing as a lost cause. Not everyone is quite so sure. In introducing Mr. Bauer to the crowd in Newport, former Kentucky Gov. Louis Nunn praised the man who first volunteered to help his Republican administration in the late 1960s. Gary Bauer, said the governor, is a man who wants to serve humanity. A man who is honest and uncompromising. "America could do worse," he concluded. "And they probably will."

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