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    Calls on Social Security miff GOP

    Democrats turn to actor Ed Asner for phone calls some consider an unfair scare tactic.

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    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000

    Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican voters complained Monday that the Florida Democratic Party is scaring seniors with telephone calls from actor Ed Asner, who warns that George W. Bush could "undermine" Social Security.

    The taped telephone messages, which were played over the weekend and on Monday, echo Al Gore's argument about the Texas governor's Social Security proposal. The vice president contends that George W. Bush cannot let younger workers divert a portion of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts and still promise retirees that their benefits won't be cut.

    "Unfortunately, George W. Bush has a proposal that would undermine Social Security, even threatening current benefits," Asner says. "Intelligent changes are needed to Social Security -- but not at the cost of current retirees. That's a violation of a sacred trust."

    Gov. Jeb Bush compared Asner's taped calls to those made against him by Gov. Lawton Chiles' campaign in 1994. Those calls accused Jeb Bush of opposing Social Security and Medicare when he did not, and Bush lost the state's closest gubernatorial election in modern times.

    "Unfortunately, Al Gore seems to be stealing the plays straight out of the Democrats' 1994 gubernatorial campaign playbook," Jeb Bush said in a statement. "I'm confident that Florida's seniors who were tricked in 1994 will reject Gore's latest attempt to scare them in the voting booth."

    Democrats said the telephone calls about Social Security are accurate.

    "For the Republicans, this is a frightening dose of the truth," said Tony Welch, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.

    But some Republican voters who called the St. Petersburg Times to complain about the calls from Asner said they were offended by the tactics.

    "I didn't care for it at all," said Dolores Rosen, a 65-year-old Republican from Spring Hill who received one of the calls. "I found it very offensive to think that senior citizens are going to be scared again."

    All of the attention showered on older Florida voters on behalf of both Bush and Gore underscore the importance of the state. The two men are in a close fight for the state's 25 electoral votes, and seniors are expected to represent at least one in three voters.

    Several weeks ago, Republicans mailed pamphlets describing the candidates' prescription drug proposals that Democrats considered inaccurate. Now the Democrats are responding with their own efforts.

    The calls from Asner come on the heels of a pamphlet that senior voters received over the weekend describing the prescription drug proposals by Bush and Al Gore. That pamphlet includes headlines such as, "No one should have to decide between filling their grocery cart or filling their prescription."

    The telephone calls seize upon the Texas governor's comments in the last debate about his plan to let younger workers divert a portion of their payroll taxes from Social Security into private investment accounts instead. Bush acknowledged in St. Louis last week that that plan could eat up $1-trillion of the $2.4-trillion projected surplus in the Social Security trust fund over the next 10 years.

    Gore argues that there would not be enough money for Bush to create the private investment accounts and promise older workers and retirees that their benefits would not be cut.

    Bush counters that there would be enough money to fulfill promises to both younger workers and to retirees.

    The Asner calls are different from the 1994 calls by the Chiles campaign in two respects. The callers on behalf of the Chiles' campaign lied about who backed them, and Social Security and Medicare are federal -- not state -- programs.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk