Bush pledges new ideas in tonight's key speech President ready to accept party's nomination tonight


HOUSTON -- President Bush tried out the convention podium today and said he'll offer the nation "a lot of ideas that haven't been tried" in tonight's speech asking the American people to give him four more years.

Then he sought assistance from an even higher platform.

"I ask for your prayers, not for the campaign that we're in, but prayers to give . . . me as president the strength to do what is right, the courage to lead this the greatest nation on the face of the earth," Mr. Bush said at an ecumenical prayer breakfast.

Mr. Bush, who delivers what could be the speech of his life tonight, was up and about early, making an unscheduled visit to the convention hall at the crack of dawn.

He appeared relaxed.

"One, two, three, four," he said, testing the sound system. "Will the Florida delegation please come to order."

On the convention floor, below the podium, were Florida delegates Jeb Bush, the president's son, and Van Poole, delegation chairman.

Was he nervous about the speech that he and his aides are depending on to shift the momentum of a campaign in which he trails Democrat Bill Clinton?

"There's a great similarity between politics and competitive athletics, for a political speech like this, and it's the adrenalin factor, I call it," he said. "Those who have done both know what I mean."

When a reporter asked if there was a tax cut in his speech, Mr. Bush pretended to leaf through a binder and quipped, "It must be in here somewhere."

To the question of whether there was anything new, he replied, "A lot of ideas that haven't been tried -- that makes them new."

As for Barbara Bush's speech last night, he said, "I thought it was first class."

Later, both Mr. Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle spoke at a prayer breakfast. As he had been the day before at a GOP rally, Mr. Bush was interrupted -- first time by a man who appeared to be shouting, "Praise God" and then by a woman criticizing U.S. deportations of Haitians. Police escorted both out of the hall.

He characterized himself as deeply religious, noting that he opens every Cabinet meeting and begins every meal with a prayer and says his prayers every night.

"You cannot be president without believing in God," Mr. Bush said.

He joked about his upcoming acceptance speech. "If it catches fire, it might give a whole new meaning to the story of the burning Bush," he said, referring to the Biblical tale in which God talked to Moses in the wilderness in the form of a burning bush.

"We meet in the heart of the most religious nation on earth," Mr. Bush said. He cited a poll that he said showed "seven in 10 believe in life after death."

The president was up late yesterday, first watching television backstage at the Republican National Convention while his wife and grandson spoke, then returning to his hotel to watch the suspenseless balloting.

Mr. Bush's speech has been ballyhooed as one in which he would redefine himself to the country. Perhaps because of that, the president sought to reduce the hopes Republicans had for it.

Asked if expectations were too high, he said: "Lower them, will you? Lower the high bar a little bit. It'll be a good speech."

His press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, would not discuss specifics.

Most of the speech, Mr. Fitzwater said, "will focus on where he's taking the country, what his ideas are for the next four years." He said its tone will be positive.

"He'll have a lot of interesting ideas in it and it will be meaty, substantive. It'll be rousing," Mr. Fitzwater said.

Asked who the principal author was, Mr. Fitzwater said it was Mr. Bush.

The president spent a long pre-convention weekend at Camp David, Md., tapping out the speech on a computer. He had a lot of help. Ray Price, whose speech writing for Republicans dates back to Richard Nixon, had a hand in it.

And the final polish, the rhetoric designed to put the spur to a dispirited party, was left to his newest head speech writer, Steven Provost.

Cabinet members, friends and even the public sent him ideas.

"People come in with ideas and there's always a lot of rhetorical flourishes that get added in the last day or two. The substance is pretty well complete," Mr. Fitzwater said.

Four years ago, at the GOP convention in New Orleans, Mr. Bush delivered what then was termed the speech of his life. He called for "a kinder, gentler nation," spoke of the goodness of Americans as "a thousand points of light" and delivered a famous promise he later broke.

"Read my lips," Mr. Bush said then. "No new taxes."

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