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    Barbara Bush, Jeb stump for votes

    Barbara Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush visit a senior center in north Pinellas to win support for George W.

    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Gov. Jeb Bush embraces his mother, Barbara Bush, on Tuesday after her speech at the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center. About 300 people turned up to hear them call for support of George W.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


    PALM HARBOR -- No one escaped the zingers of the Bush family matriarch Tuesday. Not her husband, the former president. Not her son, Republican nominee for president. Not her other son, the Florida governor.

    And certainly not Vice President Al Gore, whom Barbara Bush simply referred to as the "other guy."

    "Please notice that I have been very good about not mentioning the opponent's name," Mrs. Bush told a crowd at the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center. "Although I'm dying to point out that he had very bad manners during the debate and a huge tendency to exaggerate. I promised George, my husband, this morning, that I'm not going to do it -- wouldn't be prudent -- and that I would behave myself."

    After a glowing introduction from Gov. Jeb Bush, a crowd of about 300 gave Mrs. Bush a standing ovation that lasted nearly 30 seconds.

    "I'm known as the enforcer in our family, and sit down," Mrs. Bush told the crowd. "You all are very, very lucky here. With the possible exception of the great governor of Texas, you may have the best governor in the country. Can you imagine how great that is for a mother to be introduced by her governor son?"

    photo
    [Times photo: Scott Keeler]
    Barbara Bush greets local dignitaries, including former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, left, and state Rep. Rudy Bradley at the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center on Tuesday.
    Mrs. Bush's appearance was part of a family tour that had various members of the family crisscrossing Florida Tuesday in an attempt to wrap up a critical swing state for Republican nominee George W. Bush. Former president George Bush stumped for his son in Fort Walton Beach and Panama City.

    Both Jeb Bush and his mother assured the crowd that the Social Security and Medicare programs would be safe if George W. Bush was at the country's helm. They also warned the senior citizens to be wary of the "scare tactics" by the Democrats.

    The event attracted staunch Republicans such as Lloyd Day, 78, of Tarpon Springs, who had this to say about Gore: "He's lied 27 times," he said. "I've got the list at home if you want me to mail it to you. He says something today and lies about it tomorrow."

    It also attracted some registered Democrats such as Harry Ericksen, 73, of Palm Harbor, who said he likes Gore but disagrees with his view on abortion.

    "That is the one issue that prevents me from voting for Gore," he said.

    The rally was especially meaningful for Betty Manning, 80, of Palm Harbor. During a brief question-and-answer session at the end of the event, Manning told Mrs. Bush that she and her daughter, who lives in North Carolina, are big fans of the former first lady.

    When Manning explained that she had written a letter of her admiration and wanted to give it to Mrs. Bush, Jeb Bush walked off the stage to Manning. The Florida governor took the letter and gave her a hug and a kiss on her cheek, bringing Manning to tears.

    "I thought that was the most wonderful thing that has happened to me," she said. "My daughter is just going to die when she hears the (former) first lady took my letter."

    Her family did not escape her humor.

    She brought up something George W. Bush had said earlier about his mother giving him unconditional love and support and in return he gave her white hair.

    "Although he did have a little help from . . ." Mrs. Bush said as she slowly turned her head toward Jeb Bush. She also mentioned her husband, "who, among other things, parachutes out of perfectly good airplanes."

    After the crowd laughed and applauded, she said, "Easy for you to clap."

    Senior center officials, who found out last Thursday that Mrs. Bush was coming, initially expected 2,000 people to attend the speech. They had people parking at a nearby parking lot and shuttled to the center and set up about 300 seats outside. Before the rally began, the outdoor seats were stacked and some were brought inside.

    "We thought there might be an overflow outside," said Irene Rausch, the center's executive director. "Maybe people were afraid of the crowds or parking. I don't know what that says."

    Mrs. Bush, who was joined on the stage by a host of local politicians, urged the crowd to vote.

    "Obviously we are in the middle of a terrible battle, and the polls are as tight as they can be," she said. "Why don't you do what I do, ignore them. Don't pay too much attention to the talking heads or the pundits either, unless of course they say great things about George W."

    -- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com.

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