Dick Learns How to Groove to George's Beat

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As the delegates, journalists and other hangers-on gathered over the weekend for this week's GOP convention, candidate George W. Bush continued a whistle-stop tour of key states. TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson was there to keep an eye on things...

George Bush is full of beans. On the stage at Springdale High School in Arkansas the GOP nominee is at his most animated. His arms are swinging in tight circles and several times he punctuates important points with the Bush crouch: a simultaneous squat and arm gesture that makes it look like he's settling a new jug onto the water cooler. "Arkansas is Bush-Cheney country," he blurts. Crouch. Clearly his vice presidential choice is sitting well with him. "I picked a man of integrity," he beams. Crouch. "This is a man who knows what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

The crowd loves that line, especially in Bill Clinton's home state, where Bush came Friday to kick off a tour of battleground states he will visit before arriving at the GOP convention. But the gibe at the President's slipshod relationship with the truth is more than a passing morsel for the GOP faithful in this northwest corner of conservatism in an otherwise Democrat-leaning state. Attacking Clinton is the message of the new Bush-Cheney ticket.

Bush is joined by his running mate, who is even more direct in his criticism of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "We are on a great crusade," Cheney says. "To restore honesty and integrity to the White House."

The veep wannabe delivers that very popular line with some reluctance. Not because he doesn't love the idea but because he seems constitutionally unequipped for the let's-do-the-twist Bush campaign style. At the three events of the day Friday, Cheney speaks for a cumulative three minutes. He shakes hands along the rope line as the groom's parents might in the receiving line at their son's wedding: displaying a vaguely pleasing aspect without much human connection.

The getting-to-know-you also applies to the two couples involved. Both sides are trying hard. "It used to be a truck depot," says Laura Bush to Lynn Cheney while touring a faith-based family community center. "Really!" responds Cheney with a booster's enthusiasm. "A truck depot!" My.

Laura Bush needs all the enthusiasm she can muster, facing the prospect of the biggest campaign speech of her life Monday night. And if she isn't nervous yet, her husband is doing everything to make her so. At each stop he praises her and encourages everyone to watch her speak. She's not crazy about the buildup. "She doesn't like her words all dolled up," says Bush. "She is from Midland, Texas, where we don't have pretense, where we judge people based on their heart." When Bush says that Laura Bush will make a "great first lady," the audience applauds and Bush's communications director Karen Hughes can be seen clapping so hard it looks as though she's trying to smash a walnut.