PHILADELPHIA — As exuberant cheers from the Republican National Convention echoed into history, an energized George W. Bush hit the campaign trail today for the first time as his party's official nominee.
Bush flew to Pittsburgh with his vice presidential choice, Dick Cheney.
As Bush formally accepted the GOP nomination Thursday, he accused the Clinton-Gore administration of squandering years of opportunity on goal-starved drift and scandal. He vowed a "new beginning" to lead a prosperous nation "ready to renew its purpose and unite behind great goals."
Utah delegates unanimously cheered him on, including his former presidential rival, Sen. Orrin Hatch. "The party is very united behind him, from the right and left," Hatch said. "He has a good chance."
Bush himself predicted, though, a tough race that will be "down to the wire."
In his 55-minute speech, Bush laid out his blueprint for a presidency with purpose while charging that President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have lacked vision and any big goal except to remain in power.
"For eight years, the Clinton-Gore administration has coasted through prosperity. The path of least resistance is always downhill," he said. "After all of the shouting, and all of the scandal, after all the bitterness and broken faith, we can begin again."
Bush added, "This administration had its moment. They've had their chance. They have not led. We will. This is not the time for third chances, it is a time for new beginnings."
Bush accepted the nomination amid indoor fireworks, tons of confetti and tens of thousands of balloons dropping from the ceiling of the First Union Center. His wife and twin daughters joined him on stage after his speech, as did numerous convention speakers who represented minorities that his campaign is trying to reach.
But his father and mother, former President George and first lady Barbara Bush, watched, applauded and even wept from the audience, letting their son take the stage as he seeks to be only the second son of a president to also win that high office.
John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, is the only other American to do so. (Benjamin Harrison was the grandson of William Henry Harrison).
Delegates repeatedly chanted "it won't be long now" as Bush outlined his goals, which include saving Social Security, fixing Medicare, ending the "soft bigotry of low expectations" in public schools, teaching all children to read, cutting taxes (with most benefits going to the most needy), abolishing the death tax and lending government support to assist faith-based charities instead of fighting them.
To raucous cheers, he called for tearing down the wall blocking America's poor from the benefits enjoyed by its wealthy.
He said one needed step is to help rebuild American values rather than just seeking prosperity without higher purpose. "We have discovered that who we are is more important than what we have. And we know we must renew our values to restore our country."
He added, "To lead this nation to a responsibility era, a president himself must be responsible. And so when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."
Bush also said, "I believe in a God who calls us not to judge our neighbors but to love them. I believe in grace because I have seen it, in peace because I have felt it, in forgiveness because I have needed it."
Bush also said he would lead toward a culture that values life, including the life of the unborn.
"Good people disagree on this issue, but surely we can agree on ways to value life by promoting adoption and parental notification, and when Congress sends me a bill against partial-birth abortion, I will sign it into law," unlike Clinton, who has constantly vetoed such measures, Bush said.
He also outlined his resume for the job of presidency. "I've been where the buck stops, in business and in government, as a Texas governor pushing education and welfare reform and as the owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team when it was rebuilt from a perennial loser to a contender.
"I've been a chief executive who sets an agenda, sets big goals and rallies to believe and achieve them," he said. "Together, we will renew America's purpose."