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Tougher tone, faster pace

By TIM NICKENS and BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2000


BURBANK, Calif. -- George W. Bush says Al Gore can't bring people together. Gore says Bush "could drive our economy into the ditch."

As the Texas governor and the vice president kicked off their final frenzied week of campaigning, the pace appeared quicker Monday and the attacks sharper as the candidates rallied supporters and tried to sway undecided voters who could break open the tightest race in decades.

The back-to-back appearances by the candidates on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno may be the only levity for the week. When Leno put on a Bush Halloween mask Monday night, Bush put on a Gore mask.

"Now that's scary," the Texas governor joked.

Bush also had a message for younger brother and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about the importance of delivering Florida.

"He recognizes that Thanksgiving might be a little chilly if things don't go well," the Texas governor said. "No pressure, brother."

Gore gets his turn on Leno tonight.

After making two stops in New Mexico, where the race for the state's five electoral votes is considered a toss-up, Bush held two raucous rallies Monday night in California.

"People forget I'm from the West -- West Texas," Bush joked with Republican supporters at a rally in Burbank. "Now that isn't exactly California, but it's a heck of a lot closer than Washington (D.C.)."

In fact, this beginning of the end game is playing out in states that usually vote Democratic.

Bush is branching out and trying to force Gore to spend time and money to court electoral votes he should have locked up by now. Gore is trying to prevent the poaching.

Gore scrapped a planned boat trip across Lake Michigan over the weekend and adjusted his schedule so he could head west as well. He spent Monday in Michigan and Wisconsin, two toss-up states that President Clinton won four years ago, before heading first to Oregon and then on to California today. He will fly all night tonight to Florida for appearances in Orlando and Tampa on Wednesday.

In its final days, this is clearly a race -- from coast to coast.

Gore turns up the volume

Gore has been campaigning virtually around the clock, taking advantage of time zone changes to pack more events into every day.

The Gore crowds have been huge and loud. Sunday night, more than 15,000 people turned out in Muskegon, Mich. In East Lansing, Mich., the crowd wanted the Kiss.

Not just any kiss, but another face-mashing, cheek-twisting maneuver like the one at the Democratic convention.

"Kiss him?" Tipper Gore asked the crowd of auto workers, laborers and Michigan State students. The crowd roared.

And so they kissed. It was not quite the steamy vice presidential face-lock from L.A., but more than you usually see at a Democratic political gathering.

"How was that?" Tipper asked, and the crowd cheered.

The kiss has become a regular feature in the vice president's campaign, a symbol of Gore's new passion. During a bus tour through Michigan and Wisconsin Sunday and Monday, Gore kissed and shouted and pleaded. He railed at HMOs and drug companies and "special interests." At one point, when Tipper mentioned how passionate her husband had become, the vice president jokingly fanned her with a Gore-Lieberman sign to cool her down.

Suddenly, it seems the Tin Man has a heart.

"I will fight for you!" he hollered. "I will work hard for you every day!"

In Michigan and Wisconsin, Gore turned up the volume on his populism.

"I still believe, deep down in my heart," he hollered in East Lansing, "that this country is better off when the working people and the middle class families have a government that is led by somebody who has a passion to fight for the people that most need help!"

He confessed that populism didn't always work. Sometimes, a president follows the popular will and "promises the moon," he said. But Democrats "have found a way to balance this concern for working people with economic common sense."

Gore kept up his criticism of Bush, saying the nation was "at a fork in the road. We can go the right way, or we can make a U-turn and go back to the old ways."

He said the Supreme Court is at risk because the next president is likely to appoint as many as five new justices. Gore turned Bush's own phrases against him, saying the Texas governor was practicing "fuzzy math" with his Social Security proposal.

Just as Bush portrays Gore as hostage to special interests, Gore said Bush "gives in to the powerful interests" and had tailored his tax plan to help the rich.

Bush keeps up attack

Bush bounded up the steps of his 757 campaign plane as the sun rose Monday in Austin and pronounced himself "as energized as I can be." But his delivery was flat at the first two stops in Albuquerque, N.M., where the yellow fall leaves brightened the brown landscape.

Despite reading from TelePrompTers in an airport hangar, Bush stumbled over his words several times during a speech that read better than it sounded. He even got one of his standard lines backward, declaring "Gore is for the people" when he meant to say the vice president is for the government and he is for the people.

Even Bush caught that one.

"There I go again," he said, as the crowd of several thousand laughed.

The Texas governor talked of "bringing America together" to work toward common goals and vowed to unite members of both parties in Washington.

"This election has many issues, but one great question and it is this," Bush said quietly in the hangar. "Can we bring America together, move beyond the petty arguments, and real results for the American people? This is the question the American people must answer. And if they answer the question yes, we will win."

Bush repeatedly portrayed Gore as a politician who will say anything to get elected and who pits one group of Americans against another on issues ranging from education to tax cuts to Social Security.

"He talks of "ripping the lungs out' of political opponents," Bush said. "He scares the elderly for political gain. His campaign attacks are designed to spread falsehood and cynicism. If you try to win at any cost, the price is high: You lose your ability to inspire our people and lead a nation."

That did not prevent the Texas governor from taking shots at Gore. He contended the vice president's plan to offer matching money for new retirement investment accounts separate from Social Security would require future generations to pay "massive new taxes."

Bush also defended his education initiative that would require annual testing of students andhold schools accountable for the results. A study by the Rand Corp. released last week concluded that state tests taken by Texas students artificially inflate their progress because the students are not doing as well on national tests.

Bush dismissed criticism about teachers teaching to a test. "Teaching a child to read, teaching a child to comprehend, is not teaching to a test," he told about 200 listeners at an elementary school outside Albuquerque. "It is teaching a child so a child can pass a reading comprehension test."

Today, Bush travels to Oregon and Washington before heading to Minnesota on Wednesday. Those states have voted Democratic in recent presidential elections. But there is a concern among some Democrats that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader is siphoning so many liberal voters away from Gore that Bush may pick off one or two of those states.

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