At The Gop's Party: No Hometown Hero, The `Tortilla Curtain,' Millie's Memoirs...

* How bad have things gotten for George Bush? So bad that even the congressional district he once represented is displeased with the job he's doing. A preconvention poll taken by the current representative of Houston's affluent west-side district, Republican Bill Archer, found that voters disapprove of Bush's performance by 57% to 43%. In 1988, Bush walked away with 77% of the district's vote. And the dislike is personal: Voters continue to give overwhelming support to such Bush positions as a balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto, even aid to the former Soviet Union.

* Aside from golf, one of Vice-President Dan Quayle's favorite sports is bashing lawyers for entangling the country in a costly web of needless litigation. Thanks to him, the GOP platform includes a detailed call for legal reform, including limiting punitive damages, discouraging damage suits by making losers pay winners' legal costs, and more use of arbitration. Republicans, it declares, will "put the interests of workers and consumers ahead of trial lawyers." But legal eagles haven't given up on the Quayle family. On Aug. 17, the Republican National Lawyers Assn. held a fete at Houston's posh Wyndham Warwick Hotel. Their guest of honor: Marilyn Quayle, a nonpracticing attorney. The Veep, meantime, dropped in on the Texas Public Policy Foundation--a conservative think tank--to receive its Abraham Lincoln Award for legal reform.

* The Republicans went some distance in Houston to prove their claim to be the party of small business. At the Democratic powwow in New York, sellers of souvenirs and political memorabilia were relegated to a drab hotel ballroom far from the convention. The GOP, though, turned over a vast hall in the Astrodome complex to 200 vendors selling everything from encyclopedias to T-shirts proclaiming "Democrats: Too Much Sex, Too Much Gore." Among the hottest attractions were cloisonne Republican elephants and Barbara Bush's Millie's Book.

* With a tough race ahead, this is hardly the time for Presidential wannabes to be thinking about 1996. But don't tell that to convention keynoter Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), who may have been the busiest man in Houston. The senator seemed to hit every delegation, caucus, and meeting in town--including luch with the Iowa delegation and cocktails with New Hampshirites. Gramm insists his schedule had nothing to do with those states' role in selecting the first '96 delegates: "They're both states we have to win to win the election," he says. In fact, New Hampshire is a bedrock Republican state while Iowa is a near-lock for Bill Clinton. And after the convention, Gramm plans to barnstorm California, Kentucky, Ohio, and South Dakota--all, he claims, to campaign for Bush and Republican congressional candidates.

* The Bush campaign hopes its tough stands on abortion and "family values" will win the votes of socially conservative Hispanics. But one line in the 130-page GOP platform could work at cross-purposes. It endorses the construction of "structures necessary to secure the border" from illegal immigration. Many Hispanics view this so-called Tortilla Curtain as racist, and political analysts predict that it will hurt Bush in the Mexican-American communities of California, New Mexico, and Texas. "The platform makes it far more difficult for Republi-cans to make inroads among the traditionally Democratic Mexican-American vote," says Jerry Polinard, a politicalscientist at the Universityof Texas-Pan American. The sour economy was already hurting the Republicans among Mexican-Americans. A recent Houston Chronicle poll showed Clinton leading among Texas Latinos by nearly 10 to 1. This cloud may have a silver lining: San Francisco pollster Mervin Field says Bush might offset some of his loss by tapping into the anti-immigrant sentiments of border state voters. But that's small consolation.

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