The time has come to stop thinking about George W. Bush as a governor and start thinking about him as a president. Although the 52-year-old Bush has yet to declare formally that he is a candidate for the White House, the polls have him leading in the race for the Republican nomination and winning easily in an election against either Al Gore or Bill Bradley. He raised more than $7 million in campaign funds in less than a month. A steady stream of important visitors have come to Austin to pay their respects or to coach him on issues—and sometimes both. Fifteen governors have already endorsed him, and he is the preference of many Republicans in the House of Representatives. All this has happened even though the only thing most people in America know about George W. is who his parents are.

Yet personal details are exactly what people want to know about presidential candidates. Most elections are about issues, but a presidential election is about choosing a leader—and personal characteristics make a leader. That was true even for Ronald Reagan, the most ideological president in modern times. He attracted his political base with his ideas but won his elections by force of personality. In the following seven stories, which trace the path of Bush’s life from his childhood all the way to his tenure as governor, we try to answer the question that most likely will be at the center of the next campaign: Who is George W. Bush?