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Bush vows to lead with compassion

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) -- George W. Bush plunged into the 2000 presidential race Saturday, declaring "there's no turning back" from his bid to usher in a new era of Republican politics.

"I am proud to be a compassionate conservative," he said. "And on this ground I will make my stand."Flying from Austin aboard his "Great Expectations" charter plane, the Texas governor embarked on his first campaign trip -- already positioned as the party's leader in polls, money-raising and endorsements.

"I'm running for the presidency of the United States," Bush said. "There's no turning back, and I intend to be the next president."

Republican rivals, Democratic operatives and more than 200 journalists followed Bush's every step, taking measure of whether he is prepared for the pressures of a front-running campaign.

Bush displayed a knack for working small crowds: shaking hands, patting shoulders, grabbing elbows, signing autographs and joking with supporters.

Among Bush's policy proposals were promises to reduce marginal tax rates, allow Americans to invest their Social Security taxes and add "a touch of iron" to the U.S. military. He leveled one attack against President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, saying "they did not invent prosperity" in America.

In his centerpiece address at a country barbecue, Bush promised to end "this season of cynicism" in American politics. Republicans can be conservative without being mean, he said, offering these prescriptions:

Cut taxes, but help people save and make more money.

Cut welfare rolls, but "confront the suffering that remains."

Retain local control of schools, but "make sure that no single child gets leftbehind."

"I know that this approach has been criticized, but why? Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our party be led by someone who boasts of a hard heart?" Bush said.