The state capitol in Albany empties out in August, and those with important political business must travel 37 miles north to the picture-perfect racetrack at Saratoga Springs, where the Thoroughbreds are running and politicians have taken over the clubhouse. New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani glad-hands through the crowd one day (as state representative Rick Lazio glumly looks on). And later, Bill Powers, the former Marine who runs the Republican State Committee, holds court in the governor’s box. Barrel-chested, with snow-white hair and hard blue eyes, Powers is wearing khaki trousers, a navy blazer, a blue-and-white striped shirt, and a gray silk tie with gold elephants. His wife, Judy, sits beside him as ceiling fans twirl overhead. Whenever Powers sallies forth, party regulars snap to attention. “Hello, Mr. Chairman!” a telegenic assemblyman chirps as he spots Powers coming down the clubhouse stairs. “How are you, Mr. Chairman?” a state senator wants to know. “Are you enjoying the summer?” Powers is famous for intimidating the fractious Republican troops into order. It’s a reputation he cherishes.
“We’re sometimes accused of running a tight-fisted organization,” he says, throwing me a practiced glare, “and, uh, we try.”
In the third race, Powers puts money on Country Hideaway, a 3-year-old bay favored to win. “Aaaaannnnnd they’re off!” booms the announcer. He eats a salad, glances at the track, and reminisces about a trip he took to Texas last spring. The Hearst publishing empire sent him there to address employees of their newspaper in San Antonio. As soon as the lunch ended, Powers sped north to Austin, where he pulled up before the Four Seasons, a four-star hotel next to the slow-moving Colorado River. The hotel’s lobby is done in cowboy chic – all pony skin and horns – and was full of legislators and lobbyists hobnobbing and cutting deals the way politicians and lobbyists do in hotel lobbies in state capitals everywhere. Powers went upstairs to meet Texas governor George W. Bush. The only other person in the room was Don Evans, a Texas oilman who now serves as Bush’s national finance chair. “It was supposed to be a 40-minute meeting,” Powers recalls, “except that it went on for three and a half hours. I haven’t been so captivated by a national candidate since I first met Ronald Reagan.”
Of course, when the talk turned to the details of campaigning in New York, Powers still felt obliged to resort to his drill-sergeant routine. He glowered at Bush; Bush glared right back at him. For Powers, this was the highlight of the trip. Browbeating a young fella! Discovering that he had the audacity to bully back! If the Bush campaign really started to take off, Powers wanted to make sure that New York was part of the action. “We talked about what he stood for and where he wanted to go,” says Powers. “Being a typical New Yorker, I did a lot of talking. I told him what I thought he had to do.” Powers isn’t saying what the exact details of the battle plan are, but he does admit that he instructed Bush to make campaigning in New York a priority. Reagan spent time in the state and carried it twice; George W.’s father spent his money elsewhere and lost New York both times.
Powers takes me over to meet Thomas Ognibene from Queens, the Republican leader on the New York City Council. Ognibene wears a black silk shirt and gray slacks, his frizzy white hair forming a sweat-soaked halo. I ask what his city-dwelling constituents could possibly have in common with a pro-life, pro-gun, boot-wearing Texan who talks with a twang. “We don’t think of him like that,” explains Ognibene, as if he’s giving instruction to a small child. “We think of him as a winner.”
Bill Powers, George Pataki, Al D’Amato, Rudy Giuliani – and just about every other New York Republican who still has possession of his faculties – have adopted this brash, charming Texan as their best hope to lead the party to victory around the state. The scenario appeals to Bush, of course, because if he can make it here, he can probably make it to the White House. “He’s guaranteed to carry Texas,” says Staten Island borough president Guy Molinari. “And his brother can carry Florida. Which means that if we can carry New York for him – well, he doesn’t need a lot more than that to win.” Reagan’s victories here secured his election in both 1980 and 1984, and no Democrat since Truman has been able to make it to the White House without the state. Assembly minority leader John Faso likes to refer to the 1988 election to make the point that New York is eminently up for grabs: Another 2 percent and Bush père would have beaten Dukakis here. And with a Republican as governor this time (Cuomo was still governor in 1988), Faso believes George W. Bush will have no problem nailing down that margin.
Over the past year, Bush has been quietly wooing a parade of powerful New Yorkers. One by one, they’ve made the trek to Austin and come back as converts. Bill Paxon was down in December, Rudy Giuliani was there in April, and PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico recently made the trip. Bush zealots are convinced that as the birthplace of moderate “Rockefeller” Republicanism, New York will prove fertile ground for Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” They look at his success in attracting black and Hispanic voters and swoon at the prospect of winning a multicultural majority here. The list of Bush’s New York donors is surprisingly eclectic, and, yes, it does include Jerry Seinfeld.
In three weeks, Bush will make his first campaign appearance in New York City, at a mega-fund-raiser at the Sheraton Hotel. Local Republicans have seized on the October 5 event as a chance to show their devotion and signal that New York is now in play. “I’m encouraging all of my friends and all of the people who’ve traditionally supported me to be supportive of this event,” says Al D’Amato. “It’s important to keep the momentum going.” From the way things are shaping up, the fund-raiser will certainly accomplish that. “I think they’ll be pleased with what happens in October,” says Faso. “This is probably going to be the biggest fund-raiser in the history of the Republican Party in New York. This is going to dwarf anything that was done in ‘96.”
That kind of talk pleases everyone in the locked suite on the second floor of the building in downtown Austin where the Bush campaign has its headquarters. “If you look at the trends,” says Maria Cino, Bush’s political director, “New York is ripe for the picking. Look at Pataki’s election and re-election.” Cino is an Italian Catholic from Buffalo, New York, and as one of the only non-Texans in the top ranks of the Bush operation, her presence is a dead giveaway that Bush takes New York very seriously indeed.
She’s a small woman with cropped brown hair, hazel eyes, and trendy glasses. On this August afternoon, seated in her Austin office, she is wearing black slacks, a taupe sweater, small gold hoop earrings, and a red-white-and-blue bush pin. Her Republican credentials are impeccable. She ran Bill Paxon’s first campaign for Congress and followed him to Washington. She did a stint at the R.N.C., then served as executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee under Paxon’s leadership. Cino is dogged, cheerful, and absolutely convinced that she can swing her home state. The Bush assault begins next month, with a whirlwind tour capped by the New York City fund-raiser. “We’ll start at one end of the state and go all the way to the other,” she says. The goal is simple: Unify Republicans, raise truckloads of money, and, most crucial of all, seduce as many Reagan Democrats as possible back into the fold. “Look outside of New York City,” she says. “What you find are a lot of conservative ethnic Catholics who are ready to vote for a Republican for president, if we offer them a good alternative.”
Roland Betts doesn’t have to make a special pilgrimage to Austin to see George W. Bush, because for three decades now, Bush has been coming to New York to see Betts. Nobody in New York knows George W. Bush better than Roland Betts, and nothing explains the Texan’s surprising potential as a New York candidate than his friendship with this liberal Manhattan businessman. In New York City, Bush’s most important allies are Betts, Staten Island pol Guy Molinari, and conservative investor and chief fund-raiser Robert Wood Johnson IV. The Texas-size differences in style and politics between these three men gives a clear sense of the potentially unwieldy breadth of Bush’s support: Three more unlikely amigos would be hard to find.
Betts is best known as the chairman and developer of Chelsea Piers, the West Side sports-and-entertainment complex. His roomy office sits atop a roller-skating rink, and his desk is positioned so that he can look down the length of Pier 62 and across the Hudson to New Jersey. “I was trying to find a place for my daughter to figure-skate, and it got out of hand,” jokes Betts. “That pier is about 100,000 square feet, and that’s all that I wanted. But by the time I wrestled the property away from the state, it came to 1.8 million square feet.” Betts could afford that kind of waterfront real estate because he had already made an incredible amount of money. The most judicious of his deals involved financing every movie made by the Walt Disney Company between 1984 and 1991, as Disney was just starting to get into the film business; he also persuaded Disney to give him the copyrights. Later, Disney had to buy back the rights to titles like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Pretty Woman. Betts calls this “thinking long-term.”
The writer Roy Blount Jr. once lived in the brownstone that Betts owns, and in Blount’s memoir, Be Sweet, his friend appears as a mogul with distinctly counter-cultural leanings. Betts is a liberal Democrat. He’s a big, lumbering white guy, six feet one inch tall, with a bearish figure, dark hair just turning silver, and intense, attentive brown eyes. He met the love of his life, Lois, who is a slender, fine-featured black woman, 30 years ago, back when they were both public-school teachers in Harlem. A third-generation “legacy” at Yale like his college pal George W., Betts wrote his senior thesis on Intermediate School 201. It was 1968, and a lot of Ivy League types were writing papers about places like Harlem, but not many of them actually went there to work after graduation. Betts did, and he even rose to the position of assistant principal (by then he had moved over to a New Jersey school system).
After Roland married Lois, they went to visit Bush, who was then at Harvard Business School. “It was very important to me that George meet Lois,” says Betts. “Although there’s a lot of interracial stuff now, at that time it was pretty controversial. So we went up to Boston. They were best friends that night and forever. He’s really close to Lois, really close to our kids.” Over the past 30 years, whenever Bush has visited the city, he has almost always stayed with Roland and Lois in their brownstone in the northern reaches of the Upper West Side. Back in the seventies, Betts and Bush used to play pickup basketball on a court near Riverside Drive and 100th Street. These days, they don’t play basketball; they jog in Riverside Park instead – with two Texas Rangers following on bicycles and two more in an armored car. “We have a house in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and they’ve come out there too,” Betts adds. “I’m like, ‘George, let me take you to an art gallery.’ He goes, ‘You want to walk around town with six guys in raincoats?’ “
Bush talks to Betts frequently. “I just talk to him about his state of mind, his mental health, his family, and his kids,” says Betts. Whatever differences exist between them, Betts considers them subordinate to the importance of helping Bush get elected. “Maybe I’m uncomfortable with George’s position on abortion, but on balance, I’m comfortable with George,” he says. “I don’t think he’s going to make changing the law on abortion a priority. Also, when you look at how dangerous and complicated a world this is now, there are other factors besides abortion which I think should govern how you vote. I mean, you’ve got China and Taiwan toying with each other, and you’ve got the North Koreans shooting a rocket over Japan, and you’ve got the Soviet Union falling apart. Good lord, who wants this job?”
Throughout Bush’s adult life, Betts has been his mentor, his business partner, and his best friend. At Yale, when Bush’s father was preoccupied with the pressures of his political career, Roland’s father stepped into the breach. “My father died in 1986,” remembers Betts. “Right after he died, we all went out to Docks, the seafood restaurant. It was me, George, Lois, and our two girls. George told a story about how after he graduated from Yale, he wrote my father a letter, thanking him for being his father-in-absentia. Nobody’s closer to their father than George, but his father was down in Texas. Busy. And he just started bawling. Of course, then I’m bawling, and my wife is bawling, and soon all five of us are bawling.”
Bush’s friends are drawn to him because of that kind of raw openness, but for a long time they presumed it would make him a terrible candidate. He seemed to have no control over his mouth. “I think Ann Richards taught him to hold his tongue,” says Betts. “We used to say, ‘George, she’s going to bait you – she’s going to trick you into saying something rash. We know you too well.’ He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, Betts. Don’t worry about it.’ “
Bush is a rich man because of his association with Betts. In 1983, Betts asked Bush to sit on the board of Silver Screen Management, his movie company, and later they got into the sports business together. “Everybody on my board had a film background or a financial background, but after a year or two, the person they turned to was George,” says Betts. “Not that George had mastered the film business – he hadn’t at all. And I’m not going to tell you that he prepared for the meetings. He just listened to everything and then took the commonsense path, which was generally the best path.” In 1988, Bush called to say that the Texas Rangers baseball team was for sale. Betts instantly appreciated why, at $86 million, the team was an attractive purchase: It looked like a great turnaround possibility. With other investors, they bought the team, and Bush became general partner. “George did all the outside relationships for the team, because that fit his personality,” says Betts. “He wasn’t the guy who wrote the financial spreadsheets, but he was the person interacting with the rest of the world.”
Bush deliberately plays the laid-back Texan, creating the impression that his political career has happened almost by accident, but he talked to Betts about his political aspirations before they invested in the Rangers together. “My willingness to put a lot of money into the Rangers is based on the fact that you’re there,” Betts told him. “If you’re going to run for office anytime soon, then I don’t want to do this.” Eventually Betts convinced his friend to delay his entry into politics until after they transformed the Rangers into a profitable team. “You do something that’s yours, you get out from under your father’s shadow,” urged Betts. “When we build a new stadium, you’re going to be in the newspapers every single day, getting positive coverage for creating new jobs. As opposed to being just President Bush’s son.” Nine years later, Betts, Bush, and the other partners sold the team to Tom Hicks for a sweet $250 million. Bush’s initial investment of $606,000 ballooned into $15 million. In Texas, where wheeling and dealing is considered high art, Bush’s image underwent a similar magnification. He’d been considered a lightweight; now he was taken seriously, at least in business circles. Still, when Bush first told Betts that he was thinking of running against Ann Richards, Betts decided his friend was nuts.
“She’s really popular, George,” Betts told him. “You don’t have a chance.”
“Uh, I’m going to win,” Bush replied.
Bush explained that when he was not at a Rangers game, he had been making speeches. He had spoken at the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the local high school. He’d always talked about baseball. “But really he was doing favors for other Republican politicians throughout the state,” says Betts. “He was quietly building these allegiances, where everybody was in his debt, and then later he could call it in. If you go back and look at how quickly the Republican Party embraced him as their candidate” – and here Roland Betts snaps his fingers loudly – “it was like that.”
Now the same drama is being played out all over again except on a national scale. To win New York, of course, Bush would have to persuade Democrats to embrace him as well. Roland Betts fervently believes that Bush can manage this. He feels that his friend has a side that will tickle the liberal heart. When you listen to him, Bush starts to sound almost Clintonesque.
Roland Betts keeps a photograph that he cut out of the New York Times taped to his wall. “Did you see this picture?” he asks me toward the end of our interview. “This picture was on the front page of the Times.” It’s a grainy color shot of Bush in his shirtsleeves. His mouth is puckered up, and he’s kissing a little girl in a pink dress. A little black girl. “This picture, to me, is a shocking picture,” says Betts. “Imagine this picture on the front page of the Times 30, 40 years ago. I mean, it would have been heretical. I called George the day this ran. I said, ‘George, did you see the picture on the front page of the Times today?’ He said, ‘I knew that’s why you were calling.’ ” As Betts stares at the picture, it’s clear that in it he sees an improbable and unfamiliar incarnation of conservatism, a new kind of Republican – a politician even he could believe in.
Not that far from Chelsea Piers, across the harbor on Staten Island, Guy Molinari is still very much the old-style Republican, but he’s just as committed to Bush as Roland Betts. Bush made his first contacts in the Republican stronghold of Staten Island long before the current election cycle began, long before he ever ran for governor. Back in 1988, when Molinari was serving as the state chairman of Vice-President Bush’s bid to become president, he arranged for nine elected officials to announce they were endorsing the elder Bush. Afterward, George W. took Molinari over to the White House mess for lunch. It tickled Molinari’s Staten Island ego, that small favor. “He said, ‘Jeez, this really means a lot to me, and it means a lot to my dad,’ ” remembers the borough president. “Somebody else just would have thanked you and been on his way.” Later, Molinari had a little trouble with Jonathan Bush, the vice-president’s brother. Molinari decided that he’d like to replace the power broker in charge of the Republican organization on Staten Island, and his rival complained to Jonathan. “Guy, I’m very sorry, but you can’t do both,” Jonathan told him. “You can’t run my brother’s campaign and get involved in a local squabble as well.”
“Fine,” said Molinari. “I guess I’ll step down as chairman of the campaign.”
George W. called the next day.
“Hey, what’s going on up there?” he asked. “Is my uncle giving you a hard time?”
“Not really,” Molinari hedged. “He just told me it wouldn’t be good for me to be involved in a heated battle within the local organization at the same time that I’m serving as chairman of the campaign.”
“Oh, forget about that,” said George W. “We want you to be the state chairman. If my uncle gives you a hard time again, you call me up.”
Molinari has never forgotten who it was that took care of him. These days, he cannot say enough nice things about George W. Bush.
Molinari’s son-in-law, Bill Paxon, joined the Bush team after a visit to Austin last December, and along with his wife, Susan Molinari, he has been working diligently on the candidate’s behalf. Two years before his visit, Paxon had led a failed coup against House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Gingrich sent Paxon’s career screeching off track. Paxon may have lost his title, but he didn’t lose his Rolodex, and Bush loyalists had been courting Paxon for months. The morning after he flew in, future Bush campaign adviser Joe Allbaugh picked up Paxon at his hotel at 8 a.m. and drove him over to the governor’s mansion to meet Bush and his top political guru, Karl Rove. The four talked over a pancake breakfast. “I expected a lot of backslapping, a couple of stories, and then I’d be on my way,” says Paxon. “We ended up talking for three hours. I had to get on a later flight.”
As far as the mini-scandal concerning Bush’s refusal to discuss his early drug use, or nonuse, the Molinari clan thinks the public will forgive its younger representatives certain indiscretions, as long as they occurred in the distant past. (Susan once admitted that she’d smoked pot and got elected to Congress anyway.) “I think he’s a very interesting figure,” Guy Molinari says of Bush. “I read about how he did a lot of drinking when he was younger. Well, so did I. People can relate to somebody like that. They think, He’s one of us.”
Ostensibly, Bush’s only other visit to New York this year, a trip to Cooperstown, is just about baseball. It’s the end of July, and he’s visiting upstate New York to watch his good friend Nolan Ryan, the legendary pitcher for the Texas Rangers, be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Ryan and Bush hold a joint press conference in the auditorium of Cooperstown High School. Ryan steps onto the stage first, dressed in a golf shirt, shorts, and a Rangers baseball cap. He sits down behind a folding table spruced up with green bunting and takes a few questions. Then Bush appears from behind a curtain, wearing a tan summer suit, a pale-blue dress shirt, and a dark-red tie. He opens with a one-liner alluding to those aspirations that we are not here to discuss. “The difference between our dress is the difference between someone who doesn’t need work and someone who is looking for work,” cracks Bush. He adds, “I’d be glad to answer any sports questions.” Bush wears an expression of checked mischievousness – half serious, half wry.
“Governor Bush, Mark Humbert, from the AP,” says a reporter. “Both you and Senator Bradley have strong ties to American sports. Do you think that’s an advantage for a candidate, and if so, why?”
The vertical dimples in Bush’s cheeks slowly deepen as he listens to the question. “Well, I’m not going to talk politics,” he replies. “There’s ample time to talk politics – I really don’t want to ruin the Hall of Fame celebration by commingling politics. So, I’m not going to answer your question.”
“T. R. Sullivan, Fort Worth,” says another reporter, later on.
“Who?” barks Bush. “You’re still on the payroll?”
“Could you have been elected governor of Texas without having been the owner of a baseball team that Nolan Ryan pitched for?” asks Sullivan, in a mock-serious tone.
“Whoo-hoo!” toots Ryan. “Gotcha back there!”
“In deference to the AP man, I’m not going to answer any political questions,” replies Bush. “But I’ll tell you this: When Ross Perot endorsed Ann Richards, I said, ‘Ann Richards can have Ross Perot. I’ll take Nolan Ryan.’ And I won.”
Casually, Bush mentions the good time that he had in Albany visiting with another old Yale buddy, George Pataki. Bush calls his sleepover at the governor’s mansion a highlight of the trip. “It’s a fabulous building,” he says. “According to Governor Pataki, I stayed in the same bedroom that Albert Einstein once slept in.” Since the start of the year, Pataki has been sending curious smoke signals about the scope of his ambition. He’s made uncalled-for trips to places like New Hampshire, and he’s delivered sonorous speeches about foreign affairs. This enigmatic behavior has failed to ignite a grassroots movement to boost him into higher office, but it has paralyzed most serious New York donors, who have decided they’d better wait until Pataki’s intentions become clear before backing anybody else. Of Bush’s storied $37 million, a mere $1.5 million flowed from New York – far less than might be expected. Texas provided seven times that amount, and California almost three times as much, in a year when the Dow is at record heights. Things began to resolve themselves in May, after Pataki orchestrated his endorsement of Bush at the Sheraton Hotel. Bush’s image was beamed in by satellite and projected onto giant movie screens. (“Hi, Al D’Amato!” was his opening line.) After that, money started to trickle in. Not a lot, though. Pataki made certain of that: He decided the only big-deal fund-raiser in his home state would be the one that he would throw, not something the Bush people put together. And that fund-raiser wouldn’t happen until … let’s see … October. Bill Powers figures that is nice timing, as it will pump up the army of committeemen who start collecting signatures in November. “Getting on the ballot can be difficult if you don’t have the organization,” Powers says obliquely. Other Republican candidates, he points out, may have “the right to run, but the party’s got the right to choose.”
But Pataki’s feud with aspiring senator Rudy Giuliani was still a fly in the ointment. Three days after Bush’s sleepover in Albany, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Rick Perry, held a breakfast fund-raiser there, along with Mary Donohue, the lieutenant governor of New York. The politicians talked about all the amazing parallels between New York and Texas, such as the odd fact that Pataki and Bush both defeated popular liberal governors at exactly the same time. Afterward, though, according to the Albany Times Union, Perry said that he didn’t think Pataki had any special advantage in the vice-presidential sweepstakes. Loyalty, he said, was what the Texas governor prized above all else. Eleven days later, Pataki called a press conference, adopted a statesmanlike tone, and said that Giuliani had done an “outstanding” job as mayor. “To win, we have to get behind one strong candidate,” he announced. “I believe that Rudy Giuliani has earned the right to be that candidate.”
Now everything fell into place. The word went out – to Guy Molinari on Staten Island, to Howard DeMartini in Suffolk County, to Joseph Mondello in Nassau County, to Bob Davis in Erie County, to all the D’Amato loyalists around the state. The Bush wingding had to be big. So big, even the Bush people would feel a tingle of awe.
Two days after the Fourth of July, Robert Wood Johnson IV was counting crates of Chardonnay. He looked in on his chef, who was making a bunch of hors d’oeuvre with jalapeño peppers in the recipe. Then Johnson moved most of the furniture in his apartment upstairs, leaving the downstairs part almost barren. He didn’t leave any sofas: This crowd was going to have to stand. The largest number of people that Johnson had ever squeezed into his apartment before was 200, but tonight he was expecting 350. Johnson, a Manhattan investor and heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, was throwing the inaugural fund-raiser for Bush in New York City – a little teaser before the super-event. Down in the lobby, such a mob gathered that half of the guests had to be shuttled up in the service elevator. In search of something different, in search of something to believe in, in search of someone who might unite them all, 350 people who don’t normally gather in the same place smushed into the apartment. Most factions of the Jewish community showed up. Democrats arrived. Nelson Rockefeller (grandson of the governor who defines moderate Republicanism) shook hands with Jeb Bush (the most conservative of the Bush boys). Both Giuliani’s people and Pataki’s people were there. Pataki himself wriggled through the crowd. Giuliani – well, Giuliani wasn’t there. “I invited Giuliani out of respect because it’s his town, but I think he had other engagements,” says Johnson. “And that was when the rift was still going on.” Johnson went through all the Chardonnay, all the jalapeño finger food, and still the guests didn’t leave. Later, when he tallied the evening’s haul, he was elated. “It was the hottest day of the year!” he crows now. “People were miserable. We didn’t even have the candidate. And we still raised about $700,000, which is absolutely staggering. I’m sure it’s the largest amount ever raised in an apartment.”
Probably the first New Yorker who ever made the pilgrimage down to Austin was Woody Johnson. He keeps an office on the fifteenth floor of the International Building at Rockefeller Center. He is trim, lean, and energetic. When we meet, he wears a medium-blue suit with barely discernible chalk stripes, a pale-blue dress shirt, silk tie, and wire-rimmed glasses. Over the past fifteen years, Johnson has become one of the largest donors to GOP causes – in some elections, he has given as much as $100,000 – and he’s Bush’s main money man in New York. Johnson explains that he first visited Austin in 1994, shortly after Bush won office. “I was looking around for potential leaders that I could look at years down the road,” says Johnson, who had served on President Bush’s Export Council (a group that promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement). “Even back then, Bush’s name, Bush’s reputation pretty much put him on the table. I mean, it was a crowded table at that point, but I knew what kind of family he came from.” Johnson stayed overnight, talking late into the night with Bush. They discussed welfare, crime, illegitimacy, and the role of the family. Then Bush dragged Johnson over to the Capitol for a midnight tour. “We went through all the governors and all the battles,” recalls Johnson. “We talked about Sam Houston.” After that, Johnson was intrigued, and he visited often. During Bush’s re-election, he accompanied the governor on a campaign trip to the Panhandle. “I think he’s extremely smart,” says Johnson. “The thing I like about him is that he’s willing to throw the assumptions off the table and try to address the problem in a fundamentally different way.”
Johnson knows how diverse Bush’s support will have to be if he’s going to carry New York. “He’s going to have to do well – as well as he did in Texas,” he concedes. “In Texas, he took 30 percent of the Democrats.” Given this situation, it’s interesting to note that Woody Johnson and Roland Betts do not typically back the same candidate. Betts has also been raising money for Bush – from liberal Democrats. A lot of them are Bradley or Gore supporters, but when Betts asks them for $1,000, they write a check. According to federal campaign filings, some of the New Yorkers who’ve donated to Bush include former book publisher and founder of Human Rights Watch Robert L. Bernstein, along with his son, Tom Bernstein (who also happens to be Betts’s business partner), attorney Peter Bronstein, supermarket king Nicholas J. D’Agostino Jr., socialite Georgette Mosbacher (who’s supposed to be John McCain’s main fund-raiser in New York), Time Warner president Richard Parsons, philanthropist Carroll Petrie, magazine publisher Judy Price and cable executive Peter Price, former American Express honcho James D. Robinson III, designer Arnold Scaasi, educator Benno C. Schmidt Jr., and financier Saul P. Steinberg.
Johnson says he and Betts are on the same side now because George W. Bush is a compassionate conservative. “I think Roland believes that,” says Johnson. “I know I believe it.” But what exactly is a compassionate conservative? Consider the differences between the expectations that Johnson and Betts hold of a possible Bush administration. “I think education is key to our competitiveness in the world,” says Johnson. “I’d like him to balance the budget, and to make government more efficient and more effective. And to trust the American people. I mean, do you trust government, or do you trust the people? I believe, as a Republican, Bush would trust the people.” Over on the West Side, Betts says, “What I would like to know is that from a personal standpoint, his demeanor and his behavior and the way he carries himself would be, like, perfect. Which I have no doubt would be true. And from a leadership standpoint, I would hope that he would keep the United States moving in the same direction. As the most powerful person on the face of the earth, that he would work for peaceful co-existence between nations, which is getting more and more difficult. But most importantly, I would like him really to work at making sure that nobody in this country gets left behind. Because I think that is the right thing to do, and because I think that would distinguish him from the traditional Republican.”
The differences between Johnson and Betts are emblematic of the kind of broad support that Bush hopes to attract in the liberal Northeast. If he succeeds in convincing people that he is indeed some new kind of Republican, then he’ll force the Democratic nominee to fight for this crucial state. “At the very least, I think we will make New York a battleground,” says Al D’Amato. “The Democrats sometimes take New York for granted. Clinton carried it huge in ‘92 and ‘96, and he didn’t even spend that much money here. If we can make them have to work – that’s important.”
In retrospect, the fund-raiser at the Sheraton on October 5 will probably be seen as a turning point: If it’s big enough, and multifaceted enough, it could be a harbinger of how effective the Republican effort is going to be. For Roland Betts, however, the event will be a different kind of milestone. Betts sits behind his oak desk on Pier 62 looking out over the Hudson, where a tugboat slowly chugs by. He’s labored hard to make the fund-raiser a success, but it also marks a new stage in his friendship with the candidate. When Bush comes to town next month, he won’t be staying at Betts’s Upper West Side home. For years, Bush has been slowly slipping into “the bubble,” and Betts knows that if his efforts to help his friend into higher office prove successful, the transition will soon become final. It will be impossible for Bush to move around town freely the way he once did, and they probably won’t be having dinner at Docks again anytime soon. It’s a bittersweet prospect for a friend of 30 years. Bush may take New York, but in effect he’ll lose it at the same time. “If he’s elected,” says Betts, “he’ll never in his life be able to really enjoy a city again.”