Laura Bush is hailed as her husband's new secret weapon

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PHILADELPHIA - After hearing Laura Bush deliver her first national political speech at the Republican convention last night, delegates concluded that the wife of presidential hopeful George W. Bush is the campaign's new secret weapon.

"I was so pleasantly surprised," said John Hammond, 46, an Indianapolis lawyer. "None of us had really ever heard her talk before - I don't think anybody really knows her - and this was so revealing.

"I think she's the hidden asset for George W. Bush."

Laura Bush, who once made her husband promise she would never have to give a political speech, impressed delegates with her calm before the cameras and personal stories they said put a human face on a family that the country is just getting to know.

Parents, not politicians

"People have seen, through Laura, that Laura and George Bush are not politicians - they're parents, they're citizens, they're residents in their communities," said Ben Proto, 41, a lawyer from Stratford, Conn.

"She really brought that to life."

Waving signs that read "W Stands for Women" and "Laura for First Lady," delegates hailed the Texas governor's wife as both modern and traditional.

"I thought she was very inspiring for all kinds of different women - women of different ages and experiences," said Brenda Alford, 39, a Washington potato farmer.

Surrounded by schoolchildren in red and blue shirts, Laura Bush, a former schoolteacher, stuck to themes of education and public integrity.

Delegates said she will help change the perception that the Republican Party is anti-education.

"The Republican Party had missed the boat on the education issue the last two elections," said Bob Kjellander, 52, of Springfield, Ill. "What she did here mattered."

Not a back-room adviser

The candidate's wife, who said one day she hoped to see a woman president, was careful not to sell herself as a striving political wannabe or a back-room adviser to her husband.

"I think Laura Bush knows it would be nice to have a woman president, but until we find a woman who is as qualified as a man, we'll stick with the men," said Alford.

Mrs. Bush also described her husband as a man who could be trusted - a line that drew extended applause in the convention hall as the confetti and streamers flew.

After meeting Laura Bush on the national stage, delegates declared her a natural.

"I felt like what she said came from the heart," said Michelle Duffy, the Baltimore County Republican Party chairman. "It was referring to her life and what she believed."

Ave Bie, 43, a mother of two children from Madison, Wis., said she felt that Mrs. Bush instantly connected with people watching for the first time in the television audience.

"She was so comfortable in telling us who she was," Bie said. "I feel I know her."

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