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Cheney says GOP rallied economy

While giving the president some credit during an Ocala visit, the candidate praises Reagan's and Bush's economic policies and questions military readiness.

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 18, 2000


OCALA -- Dick Cheney was talking about Social Security reform. But he could have been summarizing his campaign's entire theme.

"I think we can do it," the vice presidential hopeful said Tuesday. "We just need the chance."

Voters will decide whether Cheney and presidential running mate George W. Bush get that chance. But with the election just three weeks away, no one in the Republican camp is leaving anything -- least of all the important electoral state of Florida -- to chance.

That's why Cheney made a campaign stop Tuesday afternoon at Central Florida Community College, where nearly 2,000 people jammed into the gymnasium to greet him. The audience included several Citrus County Republicans, including County Commissioner Vicki Phillips, tax collector hopeful Janice Warren and Sam Lyons, who is helping organize the local Bush-Cheney effort.

The event was part of a swing designed to shore up the GOP's chances in the Sunshine State, where polls show Bush and Democrat Al Gore running neck and neck.

This leg of the campaign trail was scheduled to end Tuesday night in Tallahassee, where Cheney planned to watch Bush and Gore square off in the third and final presidential debate. That debate was scheduled to be a town hall meeting, a format that Cheney adopted for the latter part of his Ocala stop.

Wearing tan pants, a blue shirt and tie -- but no jacket -- Cheney seemed fairly comfortable walking on stage, microphone in hand, responding to the audience's questions. Audience members seemed equally comfortable listening as they sat on wooden bleachers and blue folding chairs.

The former secretary of defense received his loudest applause when responding to a soldier who served under him during the Persian Gulf War. Cheney said U.S. troops, through the United Nations or otherwise, should not be forced to serve under the command of any other nation's military leaders.

People also cheered and waved miniature American flags when Cheney, in response to a question, said a good part of the credit for the economy's strong performance belongs to former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Cheney was careful to give President Clinton his due, praising Clinton for wisely reappointing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. But Cheney said Reagan's decision to decrease federal tax rates spurred a move toward investment, job creation and wealth creation that is just now coming to bear.

"They have not done anything to deal with our emerging energy crisis," Cheney said in response to another question. Earlier in the program, he said another Clinton-Gore failure -- involving military preparedness -- was even worse.

"The U.S. military is not in as good a shape as it was eight years ago," Cheney said in a charge that gained renewed significance last week when trouble in the Middle East erupted again.

"Al Gore either doesn't know or he's chosen not to tell the truth about it." Cheney went on to say, "Either interpretation is unacceptable in a commander in chief."

Greeted by chants of "Help is on the way," Cheney entered the gymnasium with enthusiastic waves for the audience, whose members included students, senior citizens and local GOP officials.

During early remarks, Cheney repeated familiar campaign themes: a promise to build bipartisan support for reform of Medicare and Social Security; a pledge to return 25 percent of the budget surplus to American taxpayers; a criticism of Gore's targeted tax cuts.

Joining Cheney were his wife, Lynne, Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala.

State Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, whose district includes east Citrus, delivered a few introductory remarks, as did Dennis Baxley, a Marion County Republican hoping to be elected to the state House of Representatives.

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