Bush plan: spend billions on research
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 23, 2000
TAMPA -- Appearing for the second time in two weeks before a large audience of Tampa Bay area senior citizens, George W. Bush unveiled a plan Friday to spend billions more on research that he said could hasten cures for cancer, Alzheimer's disease, AIDS and other major afflictions.
The proposal "may add years to the lives of many Americans," Bush said, speaking to an adoring crowd at Sun City Center, a community of 16,000 seniors where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1.
But in Florida, where Bush and Vice President Al Gore are statistically tied in a race for 25 key electoral votes, the proposal aims at a wider audience -- not only seniors but aging Baby Boomers worried about their own vulnerability to disease and the burden of caring for parents.
It also is an overture to women voters, many of whom remain undecided, according to some polls. Bush, appearing energetic and relaxed during a day of appearances in Sarasota and Tampa, acknowledged to the Sun City Center crowd that women need evidence he cares.
"I think women are looking for compassion," he said. "I think they want to know whether or not I've got a heart -- is there anything behind the rhetoric."
The introspective moment came during a casual question-and-answer session after Bush outlined his proposal for more medical research money. Kay Lyon, an 83-year-old resident of Sun City Center, had hailed a Bush aide with a roving microphone and told the candidate she was bothered that so many women now liked Gore because of the kiss he gave his wife, Tipper, at the Democratic National Convention.
The crowd laughed, but Bush answered seriously, saying, "I think what matters more is leadership, capability and the positions you're running on."
Lyon was impressed by the candidate and his answer.
"I just can't imagine the women going for it," she said later as Bush signed autographs and the Sun City orchestra played big band tunes. "Anybody can kiss."
Bush's plan to bolster medical research would increase the budget for the National Institutes of Health to $27.3-billion by 2003, up from the current $18-billion, he said. Taken cumulatively over the next 10 years, the increase would total about $67-billion, according to his campaign.
The Gore camp was quick to respond, saying the vice president has called for an increase in the NIH budget of $83-billion over the next decade and was committed to such a measure long before Bush.
They also distributed comments from David Kessler, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and now dean of the Yale School of Medicine. Kessler praised Bush's proposal but added: "The governor is trying to match the vice president. There is no one who has dedicated his career to these issues more than Al Gore."
Still, the Bush plan was received warmly by the estimated 750 seniors who cheered him at Sun City's Kingspoint Theater. It was part of the Bush campaign's newly released theme, "Real Plans for Real People: Blueprint for the Middle Class," which aims to help middle-class Americans "at every stage of their lives."
He was joined by retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who is a cancer survivor and solid backer of more federal money for cancer research.
Lest anyone mistake his NIH proposal as big-government spending, Bush framed it as a gesture of necessity and compassion and an example of his vision for improved health care. "One of the most practical ways government can help improve the lives of Americans is by supporting and funding progress in medicine," he said. "You see, the job is too big and too expensive for any one individual or any one institution."
He also said 80 percent of the 2-million people diagnosed each year with cancer are over 55. The point was tailor-made for Sun City Center, where the rules require at least one resident of each household to be at least 55. The crowd gave Bush three standing ovations.
Friday marked the Republican candidate's third trip to Florida since his nomination. Last week at Top of the World retirement complex in Clearwater, he participated in a similar format.
Arriving from Nashville Friday morning, Bush basked in the cheers of more than 2,000 supporters at Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport. Later, at an evening reception, he appeared at the Hyatt Regency Westshore, where prominent Republicans, including New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, hoped to raise about $2-million.
Bush's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, urged the crowd to dig deep, saying the money would help launch an aggressive campaign in the final six weeks before the Nov. 7 election.
From there it was on to a late evening rally in Miami, capping a day when George W. Bush and his famous family blanketed the "battleground" state of Florida.
His father, former President George Bush, appeared in Miami to support senate candidate Bill McCollum, as did his sister-in-law, Columba. His wife, Laura, landed with him in Sarasota but peeled off to make campaign stops in Orlando. And his charismatic 24-year-old nephew, George P. Bush, appeared on stage with father Jeb in Tampa and Miami.
The former president quipped: "I think the Bush family is overdoing it a little bit in Florida today."
- Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.
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