By JOHN NOLAN, Associated Press Writer
HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) - President Bush, in his first election-year visit to Ohio, signed the $26.5 billion education bill Tuesday in the home district of one of its backers.
"In that box is the bill. I don't intend to read it all. It's not exactly light reading," Bush told a crowd of about 2,000 who jammed the gym of Hamilton High School. "But if you were to read it all, you would find it contains some very important principles."
The bill will require new reading and math tests, take aim at failing schools and raise teacher standards.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Jerry Scrivner, 60, a retired Hamilton math teacher and football coach who liked Bush's comments on accountability of schools. "This is really something I've wanted to hear for a long time. It's something that's really needed."
Bush's visit gave Republican candidates in Ohio a chance to share the spotlight with the president and perhaps reap some political benefits for themselves.
The visit was officially nonpolitical, but Gov. Bob Taft, Senate President Richard Finan of Cincinnati and other GOP leaders were on hand.
Bush headed to New Hampshire upon leaving Ohio and also scheduled a stop in Massachusetts on the trip, meant to thank members of Congress who helped the education bill pass.
He complimented Rep. Rep. John Boehner, a Republican whose district includes this southwest Ohio city, saying the education bill would not have been passed without his leadership. He called Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who also helped negotiations, a "fabulous" senator.
"The folks at the Crawford coffee shop would be in shock if I told them I actually like the fellow," Bush said, referring to his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
"When he's against you, it's tough; when he's with you, it's a great experience," Bush said.
The return of a Republican to the White House after eight years was welcomed by campaign planners, said Mark Weaver, a GOP consultant whose clients include Taft, Attorney General Betty Montgomery and Treasurer Joseph Deters.
Republicans are trying to retain all five statewide executive offices, which the party has held since 1994.
"Having a popular Republican president in the state helps to underscore the Ohio Republican message of good government," Weaver said.
There were no executive offices on the ballot in 1996, but Democrats Dennis Kucinich and Ted Strickland returned congressional seats to the Democratic fold that year as Bill Clinton easily defeated Republican Bob Dole for president.
Republican state Sen. Jay Hottinger is up for re-election, but may consider running against Strickland if the lines of Strickland's U.S. House district are redrawn to include Hottinger's home in Newark.
"He's riding high in popularity today, but that may or may not be the case in November," Hottinger said. "But it's always nice to have the president in the state."
Paul Tipps, who was chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party from 1974-82, said just being seen in the background with a president is a plus.
"At a minimum, it's a perk," said Tipps, now a Columbus lobbyist.