The Magazine

The Bush Democrats

They're not quite everywhere, but there are more of them than you think

Aug 21, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 46 • By MATTHEW REES
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Similarly, Gore tried last month to portray Bush as fiscally irresponsible by pointing to a supposed $ 610 million shortfall in the Texas budget. "Dead wrong," replied Junell. But he didn't stop there. He was angry enough about Gore's charge that he responded in a conference call with national political reporters and then held a media briefing. Gore, said Junell, had "manipulated" the budget figures "for political advantage," while Bush was doing "a great job and we're blessed to have him in Texas."

More generally, the Bush Democrats can share stories of Bush's character. Kress, for example, recounts how Bush wrote a letter endorsing him in a school board race even though he was well known as a Democrat. Or how Bush, in 1993, invited him over to discuss education reform, questioned him for more than an hour, took copious notes, and then asked for the names of a dozen people also knowledgeable about education in Texas (and interviewed them too).

It's a measure of Bush's acceptability that not only are Democrats breaking ranks to support him, they're feeling little heat for doing so. Armbrister says he's received only a couple of angry calls and letters. Similarly, Sandy Kress, who's a partner in the powerhouse Democratic law firm of Akin Gump, has yet to hear any grumbling from his colleagues.

The exception is Carlos Ramirez, the El Paso mayor, who has campaigned with Bush in California and New Hampshire and introduced him at an Austin rally after he'd clinched the nomination. For these heretical acts, the county Democratic organization approved a resolution excommunicating Ramirez from the party. Not that he cared much. The resolution has no practical meaning, and Ramirez still spoke at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Dowd, who directs the campaign's polling and media planning operations, has a particularly interesting story of how he came to Bush. A former aide to Lloyd Bentsen, Dowd managed the senator's joint bid in 1988 for the vice presidency and the Senate. In 1989, he opened a consulting business, Public Strategies, and stayed active in politics by managing two successful lieutenant governor campaigns for Bullock. Through Bullock, who died of cancer last year, he came to know Bush, and was impressed with his almost nonpartisan approach to governing and his refusal, as Dowd puts it, to "pigeonhole" people on the basis of party affiliation.

Dowd had no intention of joining Bush's presidential campaign -- he was planning a one-year sabbatical from work -- but his Public Strategies colleague McKinnon persuaded him to come aboard. He was deeply involved in devising an advertising strategy for the Republican primaries, but his current mandate is one for which he's especially qualified: boosting Bush's appeal among independents, swing voters, and . . . Democrats.

Matthew Rees is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.