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Texas chief long on charisma, short on details
'What's in the package?' N.H. retiree asking

NEW CASTLE, N.H. -- Peggy McDonald, a retired dental assistant who lives in this speck of a town on the New Hampshire seacoast, pronounced Texas Gov. George W. Bush "adorable" when he showed up to give a speech Monday, then proceeded to raise a red flag about his candidacy.

"He is well packaged," Mrs. McDonald said, "but I don't know what's in the package. I don't know what he stands for."At the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday night, Bonnie Gobel, chairwoman of the Iowa Christian Coalition, marveled at Bush's energetic presence, saying she had "never seen a presidential candidate draw so much excitement." But Mrs. Gobel was stumped when the subject turned to Bush's position on abortion rights, a prime issue for her organization as it considers whom to endorse for the Iowa caucuses.

Two days after the governor delivered his benchmark campaign speech -- a broad-stroke address that offered the major themes of his candidacy -- he has emerged as a personable and charismatic campaigner, displaying a level of skill and taste for politicking not seen on presidential battlegrounds since Bill Clinton first came here eight years ago.

But for all his obvious talent at presenting himself, he has been notably vague on this closely watched national outing about particulars, offering only scant details amid generalities -- on everything from taxes to military spending to abortion rights.

Bush said that details would come in time, and declared that he would not be hurried into laying out any specific ideas this far before the first caucuses and primaries.

"I think I've been pretty darn specific," he said in an interview on WMUR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Manchester. "I'll have a tax plan. I'll have the proverbial 10-point tax plan. But I'm going to put it out on my own timetable. This is a long campaign."

As Bush pointed out, it is extremely early. And it would be highly unusual, in most years, for a candidate to be offering any 10-point tax plans at this stage. But as has been clear from the reaction of Republicans eager to hear Bush these past few days, this is anything but a usual year. And that is in no small part because of Bush's strategy of trying to present himself as his party's de facto nominee.