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Stand-in Graham swipes at Bush


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 16, 2000

NASHVILLE -- In a speech just a few miles from Al Gore's campaign headquarters, Florida Sen. Bob Graham on Saturday praised the vice president and fired some partisan zingers at Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Speaking to several hundred Tennessee Democrats, Graham reminded the crowd of Ronald Reagan's powerful campaign line in 1980, when he asked voters if they were better off than they were four years earlier.

"Tonight let me ask a similar question -- are you better now than you were eight years ago?" he asked, referring to the two terms of the Clinton-Gore administration. Graham said the $211-billion budget surplus under Clinton shows that people are better off than under President George Bush, when the deficit was $290-billion.

Graham, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Gore, blasted Bush for budget problems in Texas.

"Don't take my word for it. Ask the Texas Legislature," Graham said. After five years, Bush has squandered a $6-billion surplus, Graham said, leaving the legislature to deal with a shortfall of nearly $700-million.

Graham usually leaves partisan rhetoric to others in the Senate, but he was fired up Saturday night, reminding the crowd that the nation had giant budget deficits under Bush's father.

"When you look at what's happening in Texas today, you better be scared and hold on to your wallet," Graham said.

Gore was supposed to speak to the group, but asked Graham to substitute because of a scheduling conflict. That raised some eyebrows because Graham has been mentioned as a leading candidate to be Gore's running mate.

Graham dodged reporters' questions about the significance of his appearance and, in the speech, poked fun at himself.

"There's been a lot of speculation about my career," Graham said. "I have come to Nashville looking for a new job. The job I'm looking for is as a country-and-western singer."

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