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Bush previews themes en route to convention

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — George W. Bush previewed themes for his GOP convention as he campaigned in three swing-state battlegrounds Saturday. He said he was wary of favorable polls, cautioning that he's seen "numbers crumble" before.

With the convention to begin in Philadelphia on Monday, the Texas governor pressed eastward on a campaign tour of states that voted Democratic in 1992 and 1996.

"That day is over. We're going to carry Kentucky," he told a cheering crowd standing in rain outside the Louisville Slugger Museum, with its trademark six-story-high baseball bat.

He began the day in Joplin, Mo., traveled through Kentucky and ended it with a bus trip to Cincinnati for an outdoor rally in a park on a hill overlooking the city.

At one point, Bush talked to reporters about expectations for next week.

"One of the things is to make the convention interesting so that people pay attention to it," he said. He promised "real-life stories that reinforce our message."

He said Republicans would emphasize a "different approach" from the current administration. "We're going to bring civility to Washington, D.C."

He said that "walking out on that stage on Thursday" to accept the nomination would be the most magic moment of the convention for him and that he was glad his family would share the moment. He had particularly fond words for his parents — his father, the former president, and mother Barbara Bush. "I love them a lot," he said.

Bush's wife, Laura, is to give a speech to the convention on Monday night, and his parents will be there during a salute to former GOP presidents on Tuesday.

GOP aides raised the possibility that all members of the Bush clan would join the nominee on stage at the conclusion on Thursday.

Bush reacted cautiously to polls showing him to be expanding his lead over Al Gore — to as much as 16 points in a CNN-Time Magazine poll — since Dick Cheney joined the Republican ticket on Tuesday.

"I'm not overconfident," he said. "You know why? I've seen firsthand defeat. I know what can happen."

"I've seen poll numbers crumble," said Bush, whose father lost the 1992 election despite approval ratings that had soared during the Persian Gulf War.

Asked about any role his father might have played in choosing Cheney or making other decisions, Bush said, "This man is not a political consultant. He is a father and I love and respect him and the advice I get from him is the advice a dad would give a son."

In an interview with Time magazine, Bush said he is confident enough to surround himself with smart people as advisers, and would do so in the White House. "I'm confident of my intellect," he said. "I wouldn't be running if I wasn't. My job will not be to out-think everybody in my administration."

But he said advisers "don't decide for me," and he will overrule them when he thinks it's right.

He also said in the interview that his family name "cuts both ways" in campaigning. "Some folks will say 'there's George and Barbara's son. He must be interesting, let me listen.' Others say 'he's not done anything in his life, just running on his daddy's name.' It's a mixed blessing."

Cheney, who had campaigned with Bush on Friday, broke off on Saturday to keep his own schedule. He's due in Philadelphia for a pre-convention rally on Sunday.

At the Louisville rally, Bush praised him as "a man who'd make you proud."

Meanwhile, in an interview with Fox News taped on Saturday for airing on Sunday, Cheney said he was "generally one of those people who thinks Bill Clinton has been an enormous embarrassment to the country." A partial transcript was made available by Fox.

"He is a tragic figure in a way. Obviously very bright. He's got a very impressive set of basic interpersonal political skills of a standard politician in good stead, but obviously has fundamental flaws," Cheney told Fox.

Bush told reporters that Cheney was "a little more laid back" than he was. "But it's a style that I'm very comfortable with."

In his campaign appearances on Saturday, Bush emphasized upbeat themes expected to be sounded in his convention speech.

"One of the messages I want to share with America is love your children all the time," he told a rally in an airport hangar in Owensboro.

"I don't want to just hold the job" of president, he said. "I want to lead Americans in new directions."

At the rainy Louisville rally, a handful of protesters on the fringe were chanting for Gore and holding Gore signs. One held a sign that said of Bush, "Daddy's money...Empty suit."