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The Presidential Campaign

Double dose for Tampa in breathless final Sunday

In downtown Tampa and Legends Field the candidates make their cases one more time, with local friends at their sides.

Published November 1, 2004

[Times photo: Ken Helle]
President Bush sought support from "discerning Democrats." "If you are a Democrat who believes your party has turned too far to the left this year, I ask you to come stand with me,'' said Bush, reaching out in Tampa Sunday.
[Times photo: Brian Wagner]
"If you do your job in the next 48 hours, help is on the way,'' an upbeat but hoarse Sen. John Kerry told about 10,000 supporters at a festive Curtis Hixon Park rally late Sunday in Tampa.

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TAMPA - In a last-ditch dash to win the biggest battleground state of the 2004 election, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry on Sunday brought competing visions for prosperity and security to the region that may decide the state that may decide the presidency.

Late Sunday at a rally at Curtis Hixon Park on the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa, Kerry pledged a vigorous assault on terrorism and blasted Bush for "choosing the wealthy" over ordinary Americans as he promised to raise the minimum wage, make health insurance more affordable, and to reverse a new law that gives corporations tax deductions for offshore operations.

"Are you ready to put those mainstream values ... back in the White House to protect the middle class? Are you ready to put America back to work?" an upbeat but hoarse Kerry told at least 10,000 supporters. "If you do your job in the next 48 hours, help is on the way."

Hours earlier, at a rally at Legends Field, Bush portrayed Kerry as so wishy-washy that he has earned a place "in the flip-flop hall of fame." He said the Democratic nominee lacked fortitude and would be weak on terrorism.

"A president must not shift with the wind," Bush said. "The president has to make tough decisions and stand by them."

The rally at the Tampa baseball stadium drew about 10,000 boisterous supporters who waved American flags and carried Halloween themed-signs that said, "Scary Kerry."

The Bush and Kerry schedules were mirror images Sunday. Kerry started in Ohio and finished in Florida. Bush started in Florida and ended in Ohio. Their itineraries were reminders that the bitter campaign is down to a handful of key states, including Florida.

For Kerry, Sunday's rally in downtown Tampa marked his 27th day of campaigning in Florida since March, and his fourth stop in the state in the last week.

Bush has been in the state 33 times since taking office and 16 times this year.

With 27 electoral votes, Florida is the largest of the eight or so states still up for grabs. Some Florida polls show a dead heat, but the latest CNN/Gallup poll gives Kerry a slight edge. The outcome could hinge on how many of the state's newest 1-million registered voters actually cast their ballots, and how smoothly voting goes.

This puts the spotlight on the Tampa Bay area and the rest of Interstate 4 corridor, which holds the state's largest cache of persuadable voters - voters who are either undecided, or are only soft supporters of a candidate.

Bush said he was looking for support from "discerning Democrats" like Dick Greco, the former Tampa mayor who is backing him.

"If you are a Democrat who believes your party has turned too far to the left this year, I ask you to come stand with me," he said.

But he also tried to strike a chord with conservative Republicans by making oblique references to gay marriage and abortion.

"I stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society," he said. "I stand for a culture of life in which every person matters and every (human) being counts. And I proudly signed the ban on partial birth abortions." He said Kerry would only appoint judges "who pass a liberal litmus test."

He said he had delivered on his promises from the 2000 campaign to protect Social Security and create a new Medicare drug benefit.

He repeated a promise from 2000 that he did not keep: to create a long-term plan for the solvency of Social Security, saying he would "work with members of both political parties to make sure the Social Security system is strengthened for a younger generation to come."

Kerry pledged to allow the federal Medicare program for seniors to negotiate with drug companies for lower drug prices and to buy in bulk, just as the Veterans Administration does. Those cost-saving measures were forbidden by the president's bill.

On security, where polls suggest Bush has an advantage, Kerry promised to repair relations with America's allies and garner more international cooperation for fighting terror and rebuilding Iraq.

"I will bring allies back to the table ...," he said. "Just because George W. Bush can't do it doesn't mean it can't be done."

Kerry was accompanied by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Betty Castor, the Democratic senate candidate whose race is equally tight against Republican Mel Martinez, Bush's former housing secretary.

Under a big, bright moon, a festive crowd cheered Kerry. Many wielded "2 Days to a Fresh Start" signs, as they clapped and swayed to the Goo Goo Dolls band that played before Kerry's arrival.

Sandra Still, a disabled veteran from Spring Hill, waited three hours for Kerry's on-time arrival in Tampa. Never before active in politics, she's been knocking on doors for a Democratic group trying to unseat Bush.

"My gut tells me Kerry's going to win," Still said. "There are so many people who maybe were complacent before, like me, who don't want to get burned again."

For Kerry, Sunday night's event capped a day of high-energy rallies. Some 12,000 people came to see him in downtown Manchester, N.H., where polls suggest he has an even chance of winning. Bush won there in 2000.

Many voters in New Hampshire are fiscally conservative but socially moderate or liberal.

He was accompanied by Air Force Gen. Tony McPeak, who led the air war during Desert Storm and who supported Bush in 2000. He is endorsing Kerry this year.

"We are weaker in every way we can imagine. We have fewer friends and more enemies," McPeak said, adding, "What I like about (Kerry) is he doesn't keep talking about how tough he is. He is tough."

Kerry started the day by attending mass in Ohio, whose 20 electoral votes are up for grabs. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Sen. John Edwards and Kerry each visited the state Sunday.

Kerry, a Catholic, talks far less about religion than President Bush, a born-again Christian, and his support for keeping abortion legal has put him at odds with some Catholic leaders. But in Dayton, Ohio, Sunday morning, Kerry told congregants at a large African-American church that faith is central to his life, and he said Bush's religiosity conflicts with the way the president favors rich over poor.

"The gap between the haves and have-nots has grown - and they don't do anything about it. That is the choice in this race, my friends."

Kerry spent Sunday night in Orlando for got one more shot of local TV news coverage this morning, then was scheduled to zoom through the Upper Midwest. He is expected to end the day with a late-night rally in Cleveland.

Edwards is to campaign in the GOP stronghold of Pensacola this evening before heading to Pompano Beach for a rally with Jimmy Buffett. Edwards also may return to Tampa Bay on Election Day.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush will crisscross the state for his brother today, and he'll be joined by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at several stops. At 1 p.m., the governor is set to campaign in Brooksville with President Bush. The rally will be at the Brooksville campaign headquarters at 26 E. Liberty St.

Times political editor Adam Smith contributed to this report.


Continuous results for every race from city hall to the White House will be available Tuesday night at www.sptimes.com/election

[Last modified November 1, 2004, 06:37:49]

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