Tag: George W. Bush

25 years ago, a young reporter (me) got a scoop on the president of the United States

25 years ago, a young reporter (me) got a scoop on the president of the United States

Above: At a 1992 campaign rally, John Fletcher directs the Oklahoma Christian University band as the crowd welcomes President George H.W. Bush. (Photo provided by John Fletcher)


By Bobby Ross Jr. | therossnews@gmail.com

During the 1992 race for the White House, I was a young reporter — all of 24 years old — for the Edmond Evening Sun.

In the caveman era before email, the Internet and social media, the Sun was a five-day-a-week newspaper that served the growing suburb of Edmond, Okla., north of Oklahoma City.

That paper started as a tiny weekly in Oklahoma Territory in 1889. By the time I worked there more than a century later, daily circulation topped 10,000.

I covered two main beats for the Sun: public safety and higher education. My daily routine consisted of thumbing through the last 24 hours of reports at the police and fire stations and checking in with officials at the University of Central Oklahoma. UCO is a regional commuter university that — during my year and a half with the Sun — hired popular former two-term Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh as its president.

The headlines in the Sun — robberies, house fires, regents meetings — were “hyperlocal” long before I ever heard anyone use that term.

But a few months into my tenure with the Edmond paper, I got a tip with national significance: The president of the United States was planning a campaign stop in our coverage area — at my alma mater, Oklahoma Christian University.

At that youthful stage of my career, such news represented a major scoop — a chance to beat our main competition, The Oklahoman, then a statewide newspaper with a special, zoned section focused on Edmond and north Oklahoma City.

I rushed to confirm the tip, and when I did, the Sun splashed it across the top of the front page.

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That next week, I produced in-depth coverage of Oklahoma Christian preparing to welcome President George H.W. Bush (there was no need for the “H.W.” at that point).

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Four years earlier, when President Ronald Reagan still occupied the Oval Office, I had written about the then-vice president’s son, George W. Bush, for the campus newspaper The Talon.

The younger Bush had made a 1988 campaign stop at Oklahoma Christian’s Enterprise Square USA. Unfortunately, I wrongly referred to him in print as “George Bush, Jr.” Later in my career, I covered several Bush events for The Associated Press, but I did not repeat the mistake of calling him “Junior.”

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The older President Bush’s rally at Oklahoma Christian — 25 years ago on March 6, 1992 — occurred on a Friday morning.

That was perfect timing for the Sun.

I cranked out my story in time to meet our noonish deadline, and the news landed on thousands of driveways that afternoon. The miracle of the printing press …

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In case you can’t read the text in the yellowed clipping I saved, this was the opening of my story:

By Bobby Ross Jr., SUN Staff Writer

Campaign ’92 came to Edmond in style today as a flag-waving crowd of about 5,000 welcomed President Bush to Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts.

A packed Thelma Gaylord Forum exploded with cheers and chants of “Four More Years!” shortly after 9 a.m. today as the president emerged from a second-floor chapel.

“Thanks to all of you who got up at all hours this morning to come to Edmond from Elk City to Enid and towns all over Oklahoma, and a special welcome to all the students here from Oklahoma Christian,” Bush said.

The president shook hands with Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid and other special guests assembled on stage before stepping to the podium at 9:20 a.m. Twenty-one minutes later, he was off the stage and on his way to Louisiana for another campaign stop.

Smiling, the president told Oklahoma Christian students he had only one question:

“Is it too late to audition for ‘Spring Sing?’ ” he asked, referring to the 500-student musical variety show that kicked off a three-night run Thursday night on campus.

Against a backdrop of 53 U.S. flags and a giant blue banner declaring “Oklahoma Christian Welcomes President Bush,” the president was the height of a patriotic atmosphere of the campaign rally.

Read the full story.

As you may have heard, Bush failed to win re-election that November. While he carried Edmond handily, he lost nationally to Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, an old friend of Nigh.

Election night: Reflections of a career journalist

By Bobby Ross Jr.

Matt Curry, a former colleague of mine with The Associated Press in Dallas and now a Presbyterian pastor, tweeted last night:

“What he said,” I immediately replied.

For the first time in many years, I’ll enjoy a presidential election night from the cheap seats — my couch at home — rather than inside a frenzied newsroom or at a campaign watch party.

Twenty years ago, I wrote the local angle story on Bill Clinton’s election for The Edmond Sun, the afternoon Oklahoma daily where I worked for a year and a half. The banner headline on the front page on Nov. 4, 1992: “Bush Wins America, But Loses Edmond.” I still chuckle as I recall George Nigh, the popular former two-term Oklahoma governor, singing to me over the phone after his close friend’s victory:

George Nigh couldn’t be happier.

Larry Stein could be a whole lot happier.

Pat Briley is not as happy as he would like to be, but not as sad as he could be.

“Happy times are here again,” Nigh sang jokingly this morning, relishing the election of not only a Democrat, but a close friend, as president.

But while Nigh savored Bill Clinton’s electoral landslide, staunch Republican Stein lamented George Bush’s devastating loss. Dedicated “Perotite” Briley looked to a future with the Ross Perot movement remaining a live force in American politics.

Nigh, as a former Oklahoma governor, developed many relationships with other states’ top leaders.

However, the newly inaugurated University of Central Oklahoma president formed a special bond with Arkansas Gov. — make that President-elect — Clinton.

Eight years ago, I covered George W. Bush’s final rally of the 2004 campaign in Dallas:

DALLAS — As Monday faded into Election Day, the bitter divide over the presidential race was evident outside President Bush’s late-night rally at Southern Methodist University.

Deep in the heart of Bush Country, several dozen demonstrators supportive of Democratic nominee John Kerry carried signs such as “George W. Bin Laden” and “Bible Toting Liar.”

The demonstrators taunted Bush supporters leaving Monday night’s rally with chants of “One More Day!”

“We want to welcome Bush home and tell him to make himself comfortable because we’re sending John Kerry to Washington,” said Dallas resident Heidi Wanken, mother of a 2-year-old girl and founder of the organization Moms for Kerry.

Bush fans sporting red, white and blue “W’s” and an assortment of “Bush-Cheney” signs had a different message for the president: “Four More Years!”

Police standing in the street kept the two sides from exchanging more than words.

Four years ago, in the reddest of the red states, AP dispatched me (working as a freelancer) to the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s watch party for Barack Obama. This was my small contribution to the 2008 Oklahoma election roundup:

After Obama’s national victory was announced, Democrats who gathered at an election watch party in Oklahoma City danced and waved political signs.

“This is the most electrifying moment in Oklahoma and U.S. state history,” said Kitti Asbery, vice chairman of the state Democratic party.

Tonight, like my friend Matt, I’m sure I’ll miss the journalistic adrenaline rush of election night just a little bit. And the pizza, too.

Bush caps day of campaigning with Dallas rally

Bush caps day of campaigning with Dallas rally

November 2, 2004, Tuesday, BC cycle

Bush caps day of campaigning with Dallas rally

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 423 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

As Monday faded into Election Day, the bitter divide over the presidential race was evident outside President Bush’s late-night rally at Southern Methodist University.

Deep in the heart of Bush Country, several dozen demonstrators supportive of Democratic nominee John Kerry carried signs such as “George W. Bin Laden” and “Bible Toting Liar.”

The demonstrators taunted Bush supporters leaving Monday night’s rally with chants of “One More Day!”

“We want to welcome Bush home and tell him to make himself comfortable because we’re sending John Kerry to Washington,” said Dallas resident Heidi Wanken, mother of a 2-year-old girl and founder of the organization Moms for Kerry.

Bush fans sporting red, white and blue “W’s” and an assortment of “Bush-Cheney” signs had a different message for the president: “Four More Years!”

Police standing in the street kept the two sides from exchanging more than words.

Inside SMU’s Moody Coliseum, the music was loud – with a surprise performance by country star Toby Keith of his pro-military anthem “American Soldier” – and the crowd’s allegiance was unmistakable.

“I’ve got a pretty good feeling that Texas is going to be a red state,” Bush told the 8,500 supporters who packed the rally, as he capped a six-state, 19-hour day of campaigning with an 11 p.m. speech.

“You’re going to start a trend,” the president joked.

With Bush expected to win his adopted home state handily, Gov. Rick Perry offered advice on how Texan Republicans could help affect the outcome elsewhere.

“If a casual acquaintance or a long-lost cousin lives in one of the battleground states, I want you to call them,” Perry told the crowd. “If you can shout that loud, I want you to get them to the polls.”

The president’s late-night rally at SMU – where his wife attended college and Vice President Dick Cheney served as a trustee – came at the same place as his final election stop in 2002, when Bush campaigned to elect Perry and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

This time, the stakes were much higher for Bush, engaged in a fierce fight for a second term. He wrapped up his campaign in Texas after voting in Crawford, Texas. Polling places opened at 7 a.m. CST.

“This election is in the hands of the people, and I feel very comfortable about that,” Bush said after he and first lady Laura Bush and twin daughters Barbara and Jenna cast ballots about 7:45 a.m. “Now’s the time for the people to express their will.”

On the Net:

http://www.georgewbush.com

http://www.momsforkerry.org

LOAD-DATE: November 3, 2004

GRAPHIC: AP Photos TXTG105-TXTG109

November 1, 2004, Monday, BC cycle

Bush caps final day of campaigning with Dallas rally

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 562 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

President Bush was capping a six-state, 19-hour final day of campaigning Monday with a rally in his home state of Texas, where a crowd waving U.S. flags and “Bush-Cheney” signs packed Southern Methodist University’s Moody Coliseum.

The president’s late-night rally at SMU – where his wife attended college and Vice President Dick Cheney served as a trustee – came at the same place as his final election stop in 2002, when Bush campaigned to elect U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry.

This time, the stakes were much higher for Bush, engaged in a fierce fight for a second term.

“Isn’t it exciting to spend the last night of the campaign with President Bush and his wife?” actor Chuck Norris, the rally’s master of ceremonies, asked before leading the screaming crowd in chants of “Four More Years!”

Outside the arena, several dozen demonstrators lined busy streets and carried signs supporting Democratic nominee John Kerry, including “HonK for Kerry” and “Weapons of Mass Distraction.”

“We want to welcome Bush home and tell him to make himself comfortable because we’re sending John Kerry to Washington,” said Dallas resident Heidi Wanken, mother of a 2-year-old girl and founder of the organization Moms for Kerry.

Monday’s rally came amid a mixture of excitement and anxiety on both sides, with numerous polls showing the race too close to call just hours before Election Day.

“It’s going to be tight, but we believe Bush is going to pull it out,” said Laura Emmons, 37, of Argyle.

Her sons, Slader, 9, and Cooper, 7, played hand-held electronic games as they awaited the president’s speech. The family arrived more than four hours before the rally, joining thousands of Bush supporters who waited in long lines to pass through security checkpoints.

“We wanted to show them the importance of electing a president that stands for family values and freedom,” Emmons said.

SMU students Joey Vanwingerden, 19, from Culpepper, Va., and Jessica Janosko, 20, from Dallas, wore T-shirts with the joking message “Bush for Succession.”

Both said they would be extremely upset if Kerry were elected.

“All the stuff I’ve read and heard about Kerry, I just can’t trust him,” Janosko said.

Bush was stopping in Dallas before going to his ranch in Crawford, where he planned to spend the night and wake up to vote at a firehouse.

If there was any doubt that Bush was stepping into friendly territory after weeks of campaigning in battleground states, consider SMU’s ZIP code: 75205.

Nationally, Bush supporters in only one other ZIP code nationally – 10021 on the upper east side of Manhattan, New York – have given more to the president’s re-election campaign, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Republican Party leaders distributed more than 10,000 free tickets to the rally and answered calls all day from partisans who did not get tickets before they ran out, said Ray Washburne, Dallas County chairman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

“When Bush ran for governor in 1994, he was living in Dallas and this is where he really got his business start and his political start,” Washburne said of the president, who also attended Highland Park United Methodist Church, near the SMU campus. “He’s kind of coming back where he began.”

On the Net:

http://www.georgewbush.com

http://www.momsforkerry.org

LOAD-DATE: November 2, 2004

Dallas film festival aims to get it right – right-wing, that is

Dallas film festival aims to get it right – right-wing, that is

The Associated Press

September 10, 2004, Friday, BC cycle

Dallas film festival aims to get it right – right-wing, that is

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Entertainment News

LENGTH: 828 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

A new film festival promises plenty of election-year intrigue, from allegations of political deceit leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks to explanations of the “real reasons” America went to war in Iraq.

But don’t expect any liberals at the American Film Renaissance, a conservative-style film festival where “Michael Moore Hates America” will make its world premiere on Sunday.

“For 40 years now, conservatives have screamed and they’ve organized groups like Move America Forward to start boycotts,” said Jim Hubbard, a self-proclaimed independent conservative who is organizing the festival with his wife, Ellen. “We believe that’s the wrong approach. We believe more speech is good for the country, not less.”

The Hubbards bill the three-day Dallas event, which was set to begin Friday, as a first-of-its-kind showcase of conservative films. It follows the huge success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore’s critically acclaimed film slamming President Bush’s war on terror.

At this festival, “Mega Fix – The Dazzling Political Deceit That Led to 9/11” will take aim at former President Clinton, while “Confronting Iraq” delves into “what you didn’t hear about the threat Iraq posed to America.”

“George W. Bush: Faith in the White House” will portray a Christian man shaping a nation’s destiny, as “Beyond the Passion of the Christ: The Impact” explores “the powerful and often stunning impact” of Mel Gibson’s R-rated crucifixion epic.

“It’s about time,” said Los Angeles radio talk-show host Larry Elder, a libertarian who describes the festival as a chance to promote pro-American, traditional values.

Elder’s film “Michael & Me” will debut, challenging the gun control advocacy seen in the 2002 documentary “Bowling for Columbine,” which won Moore an Academy Award.

“Instead of whining about the lack of conservative material, it is up to the nonliberals to make their own stuff,” said Elder, who brags about his $1 million film’s ambush interview with Moore. “In my case, I took out a home equity loan for this film because I wanted it to be my own vision.”

Mike Wilson, the 28-year-old director of “Michael Moore Hates America,” said his $250,000 film stemmed from righteous indignation over what he considered inaccuracies in Moore’s works.

The Minneapolis resident insists his film is no hatchet job on Moore. He said it’s a journey across America in which interviews with celebrities, scholars and average folks show that the American Dream lives.

“To me, Michael Moore has always believed that America is a place where the cards are stacked against you,” Wilson said. “And I’ve always believed that America is a place where anything is possible.”

In a June interview, Moore told the Hollywood Reporter he was familiar with the title of Wilson’s film but doubted it actually existed. “You’re being duped by the kooky right,” he said. “I’ve been waiting to see this movie. It sounds like great science fiction.”

Moore didn’t return an e-mail from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Don North, a 65-year-old journalist and filmmaker from Fairfax, Va., was embedded with U.S. troops during the 2003 invasion into Iraq.

His documentary “Remembering Saddam,” which will be shown in Dallas, tells the story of seven Iraqi men whose right hands were chopped off after they crossed Saddam Hussein.

North denies any political agenda.

“I’m just happy to have any forum because I really think Iraq is a complex problem,” he said.

Other titles at the festival include “Brainwashing 101,” about colleges teaching students to fear capitalism; “Against Nature,” which suggests prominent environmentalists put personal interests over fighting Third World poverty; and “The Peace Commies,” concerning “subversive radicals behind the peace movement.”

Given the left’s embrace of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a $6 million film that has collected $117.3 million in the United States this summer, more than any documentary ever, political experts say it’s no surprise the right has responded with a film festival of its own.

The question is whether movies on either side simply serve those who already subscribe to a point of view, said Dennis Simon, a Southern Methodist University political scientist who teaches a course on politics and film.

“The people in the middle, I don’t know how many of them venture out to political films,” Simon said.

The Hubbards, both law school graduates in their early 30s, said their goal is not to stifle the left but to give the right a voice.

“We like to go to art-house films, but invariably, they’re left of center,” Ellen Hubbard said. “Or you go to a cineplex, where the films may not be overtly liberal, but they’ll slip in little messages that are critical of our foreign policy or our president. It just seems like a constant barrage of criticism against our ideology. We just kind of get tired of it.”

On the Net:

American Film Renaissance: http://www.afrfilmfestival.com

GRAPHIC: AP Photo TXDM101

Son of late officer and others question memos attributed to his dad

Son of late officer and others question memos attributed to his dad

The Associated Press

September 9, 2004, Thursday, BC cycle

Son of late officer and others question memos attributed to his dad

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 479 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

The authenticity of newly unearthed memos stating that George W. Bush failed to meet standards of the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War was questioned Thursday by the son of the late officer who reportedly wrote the memos.

“I am upset because I think it is a mixture of truth and fiction here,” said Gary Killian, son of Lt. Col. Jerry Killian, who died in 1984.

Another officer who served with Killian and a document expert also said Thursday the documents appear to be forgeries.

Gary Killian, who served in the Guard with his father and retired as a captain in 1991, said one of the memos, signed by his father, appeared legitimate. But he doubted his father would have written another, unsigned memo that said there was pressure to “sugar coat” Bush’s performance review.

“It just wouldn’t happen,” he said. “The only thing that can happen when you keep secret files like that are bad things. … No officer in his right mind would write a memo like that.”

News reports have said the memos, first obtained by CBS’s “60 Minutes,” were found in Jerry Killian’s personal records. Gary Killian said his father wasn’t in the habit of bringing his work home with him, and that the documents didn’t come from the family.

The personnel chief in Killian’s unit at the time also said he believes the documents are fake.

“They looked to me like forgeries,” Rufus Martin said. “I don’t think Killian would do that, and I knew him for 17 years.”

CBS stood by its reporting. “As is standard practice at CBS News, the documents in the ’60 Minutes’ report were thoroughly examined and their authenticity vouched for by independent experts,” CBS News said in a statement. “As importantly, ’60 Minutes’ also interviewed close associates of Colonel Jerry Killian. They confirm that the documents reflect his opinions and actions at the time.”

Independent document examiner Sandra Ramsey Lines said the memos looked like they had been produced on a computer using Microsoft Word software, which wasn’t available when the documents were supposedly written in 1972 and 1973.

Lines, a document expert and fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, pointed to a superscript – a smaller, raised “th” in “111th Fighter Interceptor Squadron” – as evidence indicating forgery.

Microsoft Word automatically inserts superscripts in the same style as the two on the memos obtained by CBS, she said.

“I’m virtually certain these were computer-generated,” Lines said after reviewing copies of the documents at her office in Paradise Valley, Ariz. She produced a nearly identical document using her computer’s Microsoft Word software.

The White House distributed the four memos after obtaining them from CBS News. The White House did not question their accuracy.

Associated Press Writer Matt Kelley in Washington contributed to this report.

Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 28, 2004, Saturday, BC cycle

Barnes says he’s ashamed for getting Bush into Texas Guard

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 795 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

In a video posted on the Internet, former Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes said he is “more ashamed at myself than I’ve ever been” because he helped President Bush and the sons of other wealthy families get into the Texas National Guard so they could avoid serving in Vietnam.

“I got a young man named George W. Bush into the National Guard … and I’m not necessarily proud of that, but I did it,” Barnes, a Democrat, said in the 45-second video, which was recorded May 27 before a group of John Kerry supporters in Austin. Barnes, who was House speaker when Bush entered the Guard, later became lieutenant governor.

Barnes said he became ashamed after walking through the Vietnam Memorial and looking at the names of people who died.

The video was posted June 25 on the Web site http://www.austin4kerry.org/ but didn’t get much attention until Friday, when Jim Moore, an Austin-based author of books critical of Bush, sent out e-mail messages calling attention to it just days before the GOP National Convention starts in New York.

“The video just speaks for itself,” Barnes told The Associated Press in a brief telephone interview Saturday. He declined to answer specific questions about what role he had in helping Bush get into the Guard, but he said he may have more to say next week.

Bush – who joined the National Guard in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, and served until 1973 – maintains that he received no special treatment. Both he and his father, the former president, have said they did not ask for help in finding the Guard opening.

Bush said Saturday in Lima, Ohio, that he is “proud of my service” in the National Guard.

He made the comment after a questioner in a friendly audience at a high school commented, “I’m feeling sorry on your behalf the fact that they are trying to bring this issue up about the National Guard. I have many many good friends that served in the Guard during the … Vietnam War.”

“There’s eight of them that are changing parties because they’ve had it with the Democrats,” said the man in the audience.

“The question is who’s best to be the commander in chief to lead us in peace. That’s the question,” Bush responded to applause.

Earlier Saturday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said of Barnes’ comments: “It is not surprising coming from a longtime partisan Democrat. The allegation was discredited by the commanding officer. This was fully covered and addressed five years ago. It is nothing new.”

Barnes, who described himself as an active fund-raiser for the Democratic presidential candidate, said he’s contacted by people with the Kerry campaign all the time “but I haven’t talked to anybody” about the video.

Five years ago, Barnes found himself at the center of questions about Bush’s Vietnam-era service when the then-Texas governor emerged as the Republican presidential front-runner.

At that time, Barnes’ lawyer issued a statement saying Barnes had been contacted by the now-deceased Sidney Adger, a Houston oilman and friend of Bush’s father, who was then a congressman. Adger asked Barnes to recommend Bush for a pilot position with the Air National Guard and he did, that statement said.

“Neither Congressman Bush nor any other member of the Bush family asked Barnes’ help,” according to the 1999 statement.

The Kerry campaign has alleged that Bush got into the Guard by jumping ahead of 150 applicants. Texas National Guard officials have said they do not have records to show how many people were on a waiting list.

Although Bush’s unit had a waiting list for many spots, the Yale University graduate was accepted because he was one of a handful of applicants willing and qualified to spend more than a year in active training, and lots of time after training, flying single-seat F-102 fighter jets, The Dallas Morning News reported in 1999. The unit Bush signed up for – the 147th Fighter Interceptor Group, based in Houston – had 156 openings among its authorized staff of 925 military personnel, the newspaper said, citing records provided by a Guard historian.

In the video, Barnes claims that Bush was not the only rich kid he helped.

“I got a lot of other people in the National Guard because I thought that was what people should do when you’re in office, you helped a lot of rich people,” he said.

“And I walked through the Vietnam Memorial the other day and I looked at the names of the people that died in Vietnam,” he said. “I became more ashamed of myself than I’ve ever been because it was the worst thing I did – help a lot of wealthy supporters and a lot of people who had family names of importance get in the National Guard.

“I’m very sorry of that and I’m very ashamed of it and I apologize to the voters of Texas for that.”

People of faith ask: How would Jesus vote?

JesusVoteUp

People of faith ask: How would Jesus vote?

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., AP Religion Writer

SECTION: Political News

LENGTH: 715 words

DATELINE: AUSTIN, Texas

Just a few miles from George W. Bush’s former office at the state Capitol, a panel of religious experts Tuesday weighed a question with relevance to many people of faith: How would Jesus vote?

It’s a complex question that can’t be boiled down to simple political terms, say religious leaders who attended a Texas Faith Network conference in Austin.

But at least one conference speaker – James C. Moore, co-author of “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George Bush Presidential” – said he knew exactly how Jesus would vote.

“If ever there were a bleeding-heart liberal, it was Jesus Christ,” Moore said. “I think the carpenter from Galilee was the original Democrat.”

Moore drew laughter and applause from a moderate to left-leaning crowd of about 250 clergy and lay leaders who met at Congregation Agudas Achim synagogue.

Many at the conference voiced concerns that the religious right dominates discussions of faith and morality in politics. They complained that issues such as abortion and gay marriage seem to take priority over hunger, corporate crime and even the war in Iraq.

Some research has found that white Christians who attend worship services at least once a week are far more likely to vote Republican, while less frequent worshippers and those who are not religious tend to lean Democratic. Many analysts have criticized Democrats for failing to more effectively reach religious voters.

“The sound bites and the headlines have co-opted people of faith,” said the Rev. Tom Heger, pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Manchaca, south of Austin. “It would be a surprise to a lot of folks to discover that there are some very faithful, regular church attendees who aren’t going to vote for Bush.”

Conservative pastors such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “would have us believe that morality is all about where you stand on abortion, how you treat homosexuals. I think that is simply wrong,” said John D. Moyers, senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress.

The presidential race pits President Bush, a Republican who openly professes his evangelical Christian beliefs, against Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Roman Catholic who is more hesitant to discuss his faith publicly.

The Rev. Timothy Tutt, pastor of United Christian Church in Austin, declined to say whom he will support in November.

But Tutt, board president of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, which includes Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Christians, balked at the perception that Bush is the only choice for people of faith.

“As I read the Scriptures and as I understand faith, God’s side is the group that’s feeding the poor, caring about children, making sure that people have enough food to eat – not killing others,” said Tutt, who opposes the war in Iraq.

Juan Galvan, Texas president of the Latino American Dawah Organization, a group of Hispanic Muslims, said he’s certain Jesus would not vote strictly for Republicans or Democrats.

“Prophet Jesus, or Isa as Muslims call him, would look at the stance of politicians on various issues before voting,” Galvan said. “He would weigh in the good and bad of each individual.”

Michael Jinkins, a pastoral theology professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said: “Based on my reading of the gospels, I think Jesus might surprise us all on his voting record. He was far less ‘religious’ than the people who criticized him most.”

In fact, Jesus might not support Bush or Kerry – or anyone else, for that matter.

“Jesus was not one to take sides on political issues,” said Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University in Waco.

Of course, the Republicans and Democrats were not campaigning on faith issues in Jesus’ time.

But the fundamentalist Pharisees, the aristocratic Sadducees, the spiritually devout Essenes and the revolutionist Zealots were prominent.

“Interestingly, Jesus never sided with any of these groups but remained above such earthly disputes,” Davis said. “This does not mean we should do the same. He was God. We are mere humans.”

Texas Freedom Network: http://www.tfn.org

Bobby Ross Jr. has covered religion since 1999. He can be reached at bross(at)ap.org.

LOAD-DATE: August 18, 2004

LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

GRAPHIC: AP Photos AT101-102