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Gore-Lieberman plays well to condo crowd

Al Gore and Joe Lieberman sound familiar themes to the delight of mainly Democratic South Florida retirees.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


TAMARAC -- The Al Gore and Joe Lieberman show made its Florida debut Wednesday.

The jokes were old, the pitch was familiar and the headliner was hoarse.

But Gore and Lieberman were a smash hit in a matinee at Kings Point, a sprawling retirement condominium complex filled with friendly Democrats.

The crowd of more than 700, which had waited more than an hour, applauded enthusiastically as the Democrats renewed the populist themes of last week's national convention and argued they would do more for working families than Republican George W. Bush.

Gore, continuing to turn his love of policy details into a campaigning advantage, kept up his criticism of Bush's tax cuts as too risky. He pitched his plans for tax credits for families caring for sick relatives and for a prescription drug benefit for seniors on Medicare.

"If you don't want to hear specifics, if you don't want to hear about the issues, now is your chance to leave," Gore said. "Do you want to hear generalities and platitudes, or do you want to hear specifics?"

The trip was Gore's first to Florida in two months and Lieberman's first since becoming the vice president's running mate. They expected to raise $500,000 at a fundraiser Wednesday night at the home of Mitchell Berger, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who is a long-time friend and fundraiser.

Meanwhile George W. Bush is scheduled to join his younger brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, at a closed fundraiser tonight in the Coral Gables home of Charles and Sue Cobb that is expected to raise $1-million for the Florida Republican Party. Charles Cobb was the ambassador to Iceland during the administration of Bush's father. Sue Cobb was the first head of the Florida Lottery under Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush plans to talk about his education proposals on Friday at Florida International University in Miami, provided the storm named Debby does not force him to cancel the fundraiser or the campaign stop.

"Are they going to board up the windows?" Gore joked in an interview with Florida reporters.

Gore has gained a post-convention bounce in national opinion polls, with most polls now showing him in a statistical tie with Bush or slightly ahead.

Both Gore and Bush expect a competitive race in Florida, which has 25 electoral votes. They each are airing new television ads this week in the state. Gore and his wife, Tipper, plan to be in Tallahassee for another campaign event on Monday.

Gore and Lieberman could not have picked a friendlier venue than Kings Point. Nearly eight of 10 residents of the retirement complex in western Broward County are Democrats. Most of the 7,000 residents are Jewish.

All were thrilled to see Gore and Lieberman, the first Jewish candidate on a major political party's national ticket.

Lieberman mixed in a smattering of Yiddish and Hebrew as he joked with the crowd.

"Where else would the mayor come up to me and say shalom alechem?" he asked. "Peace to you, Mr. Mayor."

Several Jewish Democrats said they were both proud to see Lieberman make history -- and nervous about the possibility of an anti-Semitic reaction that could affect the outcome of the election.

"I hope he doesn't have anything in the closet," said Judy Rubin, 66. "He's a very brave man to run."

Added Jeanne Burdick, who would not give her age: "I'm very happy, but I'm scared. It's an exposure we haven't had. It's earth shattering."

There was widespread support for the issues Gore is selling hard in Florida: protection of Social Security, tax credits to help pay for long-term care and a prescription drug benefit for seniors.

"Who was the president who froze steel prices?" wondered Judith Cohen, 74. "I don't know why they can't freeze drug prices."

There was little interest in Bush's proposed tax cuts of $1.3-trillion over 10 years or the Texas governor's plan to let younger workers invest a portion of their payroll taxes in private investment accounts.

"Some people don't know how to handle their own money," said Harriet Zorman, 68. "The government will have to support them anyway if they don't handle it properly."

Indeed, Gore continued to focus on Bush's tax cuts and plans for Social Security. He said those who diverted some of their payroll taxes into private investment plans could wind up losing money and benefits.

"You'd be a day trader," he told Florida reporters. "You're 80 years old, on the Internet, looking for investments."

Gore proposes targeted tax cuts of about $500-billion over 10 years in specific areas such as college tuition, health care and child care. He would offer public matching money for a new type of tax-free retirement accounts that would be separate from Social Security.

The Bush campaign was quick to criticize Gore's appearance at Kings Point.

"He's still working the Democratic base, apparently, and that's where he feels most comfortable having events," said Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew.

The Bush campaign released quotes from President Clinton's 1994 State of the Union address where long-term care was mentioned and contended the administration hasn't done anything to address the situation.

Gore would offer a $3,000 tax credit for families providing long-term care to relatives.

Bush would offer an additional tax exemption for taxpayers who care for an elderly relative in their own home. That exemption would be valued at $2,750 and would cost the government $2.3-billion over five years.

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