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Jewish World Review Sept. 13 , 2000 / 12 Elul, 5760

Roger Simon

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Bush: "I hope they under-estimate my competitiveness" -- MILWAUKEE | George W. Bush sat next to me on his campaign plane eating pancakes and drinking coffee. Across the aisle, his wife, Laura, sat quietly reading a newspaper. As Bush answered my questions, he would sometimes look over at her, as if to make sure that she was listening to his replies.

Q: After losing the New Hampshire primary, you said you had to show people you could take a punch. With the polls turning around after the Democratic convention, do you feel like you've taken another punch?

A: Not really. Obviously, I recognize that polls go up and down. I'm a patient man. I've been up in the polls, and I've been down in the polls. Then I went back up in the polls, and I guess we're even in the polls. I don't know where they are now, but they're moving around. And I think it's a moment in time where it's important to stay on message, remind people why I'm running, draw contrasts and be patient.

Q: There are stories saying your campaign is in disarray. Does that affect you?

A: No, I don't think so. And the reason why, Roger, is I feed off the crowds. ... I feed off of people and what I sense. And I sense that not only is our party united and invigorated, but there's a drive for victory that I didn't feel in '92 or '96 amongst us.

Q: You've been quoted about how winning is not your life. You could be happy to go fishing if you lose. Some have interpreted that as meaning you want to win this less than Vice President Gore. Do you?

A: No, I don't. I think I want it in the right perspective. I've been doing this now for 15 months, and I enjoy it. But I hope they underestimate my competitive nature, because I'm a competitor and I want to win. But I don't want to win to the point where I'm going to try to be somebody other than I am. I'm not going to fake. I'm not going to say things I don't mean.

Q: I know you have been doing debate prep. Do you watch a videotape of yourself afterward?

A: No, I haven't watched myself. I've been critiqued by the people who've watched. But I've sat down and gone through what it might feel like to be on different types of formats and discuss issues. And I know what I believe, and I know what I stand for. I'm looking at how Vice President Gore has conducted himself on TV. ... One of the things that I hope we're able to do is to convince people that debates are important formats and forums to exchange ideas, not practice theatrics.

Q: Do you think the debates will be a decisive moment in this campaign?

A: I think they tend to confirm support. ... I guess they made a difference in some elections, (but) when it's all said and done, people walk in that booth and they're going to say, "Who do we trust to lead the country?"

You know, I'm asked all the time by people: When the economy is good, why should people change? And my answer to them is if you're satisfied with the way Washington is running and you don't agree with me that we need to solve the missed opportunities, then it's going to be a tough race for me. But I do believe most people in America want change, and it's up to me to convince them. I think the debates will be an opportunity to continue that message. I'm just not so sure they're the big deciding factor in elections that some assume they are.

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