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With time running out


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2000

7 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Milwaukee: The alarm goes off. An extra hour of sleep has been earned by taking luggage to the holding room the night before in the downtown Hyatt, but it's still 6 a.m. in Wisconsin. The front page of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel features a color picture of George W. Bush giving the thumbs up from the rally the previous night -- and a headline and story that prominently features his confirmation that he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 1976 in Maine.

[AP photo]
George W. Bush, with his initials serving as visual bookends, gives the thumbs up during a rally Friday at Cornerstone College, a private Christian school in Grand Rapids, Mich.

On the local morning television news, all of the callers support Bush.

"It has nothing to do with George Bush being president," a woman caller says. "Everybody makes mistakes."

The best joke on the press bus to the airport: Bush's car keys ought to be put in a lockbox.

7:15 a.m. EST, Kansas City, Mo.: Never mind the election. The voters need to know how Al Gore is going to affect their morning commute.

"The big story in traffic is that the vice president's visit means that many roads are going to be closed," says Kathy Quinn, the morning anchor on Channel 41, who looks concerned at the prospect of political gridlock.

Air Force Two -- Gore aides call it "The Deuce" -- landed in Kansas City a few hours earlier, and Gore and his entourage took a quick motorcade ride to the Doubletree Hotel. A hallway on the hotel's lower level was shrouded with a green curtain so a potential sniper would not see Gore getting on the elevator. The vice president got to his suite, slept about four hours and awoke about 7 a.m. Missouri time.

Gore stuck to his morning routine. He walked about 5 miles on a treadmill in his suite, and then had steak and eggs with Tipper.

9:20 a.m., aboard the campaign plane at the Milwaukee airport: Reporters crowd around Row 19 to interview Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater. Slater says he interviewed Bush in 1998 and asked him if he had been arrested for anything since 1968, when he was arrested for stealing a wreath as a college prank. He says Bush indicated he had not, "then he clearly was going to say something else" and was cut off by communications director Karen Hughes.

Seeing the crowd around Slater, Hughes walks down the aisle of the plane and is mobbed.

"I disagree with your characterization," she says of questions about whether Bush had been untruthful. "I stopped the conversation. I realized he was talking about something and I was uncertain about what was happening."

9:45 a.m., Milwaukee: The Bush campaign plane takes off for Grand Rapids, Mich.

10:15 a.m., Grand Rapids, Mich.: The Bush campaign plane lands.

10:30 a.m., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Hughes is surrounded by reporters, camera crews and boom mikes on a chilly, windy tarmac.

"The only time Gov. Bush has ever been previously asked whether he has ever been arrested for drinking, he responded, "I do not have a perfect record as a youth.' That was his response in October of 1996 when he was directly asked this question more than three years ago, and I find it interesting, in the closing days of this campaign, the Democratic candidate for governor of Maine (in 1998) has now admitted that he is the one who released this information to the public and to the media in the closing days of this campaign about something that happened more than 24 years ago."

[AP photo]
Vice President Al Gore reaches over a fence to shake the hands of supporters after an outdoor campaign rally Friday at Iowa State University in Ames.

10:45 a.m., Kansas City, Mo.: The gymnasium at Penn Valley Community College is packed with Democrats and union workers. A banner from Sprinkler Fitters Local 314 urges the crowd to "Buy American."

Gore gives his standard campaign speech, but spices it up with sassy remarks about Bush's gaffe about Social Security. Bush had said the Democrats "want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program."

"Yaaaaa-uuuhhh!" Gore mocks, as if he was saying "Duuuuh!"

Gore says Social Security is a federal program and "a damn good one, too."

11 a.m., Kansas City, Mo.: In the aerobics room of the junior college, Gore spokesman Chris Lehane is surrounded by reporters who want a comment. The Bush campaign is suggesting the Democrats were secretly behind the revelation about the drunken-driving conviction.

"It's outrageous for them to suggest that we had anything to do with it. We resent it," Lehane tells one group.

He tells another group of reporters that "It's ridiculous, and it's preposterous."

11:10 a.m., Grand Rapids, Mich.: The gym is packed with thousands of supporters at Cornerstone College, a private Christian school. Thousands more watch a large television screen outside in the sun. A hand-lettered sign inside the gym reads, "Honesty works."

11:50 a.m., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wearing a blue suit, red tie and white shirt, Bush finishes reading a speech off a TelePrompTer in which he criticizes the Clinton administration for letting the military deteriorate. He still works in favorite lines, like "the soft bigotry of low expectations" for some students. But at the end, he strays from the script.

"It has become clear to the American people in the course of this campaign that I've made mistakes in my life. And I'm proud to tell you I've learned from those mistakes."

11:50 a.m., Kansas City, Mo.: The charter plane carrying the Gore press corps is decorated like a fraternity house.

Big foil parrots dangle from the ceiling, leftover decorations from a Tampa rally with singer Jimmy Buffett. The plane's walls and ceiling are covered with Halloween spiders, a rubber fish and a caption contest for the Rolling Stone magazine cover photo in which the crotch of Gore's pants was reportedly airbrushed. Someone has drawn an extra set of pants on Gore so the press corps would not be offended.

Also hanging in the plane is a New York Post cover with Gore and the headline "I'M NO NERD!" and a sign that says "Please DO NOT: Move tables, Stand on tables, Sit on tables, Dance on tables."

As the plane rumbles down the runway, the reporters and photographers put their arms over their heads and pretend they are pushing to get the plane airborne.

"Push it up! Push it up!" they shout. "Higher! Higher!"

When the chartered Boeing 727 finally struggles into the air, everyone applauds.

Seconds later, Gore staffer Nathan Naylor comes running up the aisle.

"Hey guys! Are you smelling something smokey?" he asks.

An odor of smoke has filled the cabin.

He shouts to reporters to unplug their computers and hurries to the cockpit to alert the pilots.

"There might be a fire," says a worried reporter.

"Ruh-roh!" says another, imitating Astro, the dog from The Jetsons.

But then one of the pilots announces the smoke is coming from a malfunctioning air-conditioning pack. It's nothing to worry about.

Greg Simon, a senior adviser to Gore who writes a satirical song every day, picks up the microphone and sings this to the tune of Honky Tonk Woman:

* * *

The plane just barely made the lift in Midway

We raised our arms and then we raised our feet

It's honky-tonk press plane

Give me, give me, give me,the honky-tonk plane

* * *

12:30 p.m., Grand Rapids, Mich.: The Bush campaign plane departs for Saginaw, Mich.

1:20 p.m., Saginaw, Mich: The Bush campaign lands in sunny Saginaw. The motorcade drives along a two-lane road bordering a golf course. Several golfers pull their golf carts up to the side of the road and wave.

1:55 p.m., Saginaw, Mich:, Bush speaks at a rally at Saginaw Valley State University, where an overflow crowd of several thousand fill the gym. Four young men sit on the shoulders of friends, wearing white T-shirts that spell out "Bush" in red and white letters.

Bush delivers his standard speech, railing against Washington and the "soft bigotry of low expectations." This time he does not mention the furor over the DUI arrest, but he almost flubs several lines.

"The great strength of America lies not in the hearts and souls," Bush starts, then stops. "Lies in the hearts and souls of its people."

2:15 p.m., Ames, Iowa: "We're going to beat Kansas State tomorrow, and we're going to elect Al Gore on Tuesday," Sen. Tom Harkin tells the crowd at an outdoor rally at Iowa State University.

Beyond the wooden fences that keep rabble-rousers from getting to the rally, a handful of Ralph Nader supporters are comparing their wounds.

They tried to get inside but were turned away because they were wearing Nader stickers. Police and organizers said the stickers might incite violence.

"I was physically removed by a Gore volunteer," grouses Brad Newman, a fine-arts student active in the Nader student group. His green Nader sticker was ripped by the Gore supporter.

"Is that democracy? I don't think so," says Perry Hines, an engineering student who is holding a Nader sign over his head. "This is university property. It's not Al Gore's property."

But the rebels made their point. In an act of defiance, they scrawled messages with chalk on the sidewalk.

"Vote for Nader," says one sidewalk. "Change requires courage."

2:42 p.m., Saginaw, Mich.: Bush speech ends. Reporters sit at long tables in a classroom and file their stories.

3 p.m., Ames, Iowa: In an interview with a Des Moines TV station, Gore blasts Bush for the Social Security remark. "Four days before the election, he doesn't even know that?" Gore says. "I think that's outrageous."

3:21 p.m., Des Moines, Iowa: The Gore motorcade doesn't stop for red lights.

That's one of the advantages to being a presidential candidate, and it might explain why the candidates don't talk about traffic congestion. They never experience it.

The motorcade has more than a dozen cars and vans, including two special limousines that are flown from city to city for Gore's use.

The motorcade pulls into Des Moines International Airport and pulls up to the Deuce. Secret Service agents hop out and stand on either side of Gore's limo, looking around to make sure there are no threats to Gore.

He climbs out and poses for photographs with the volunteers who drove in the motorcade. He climbs the stairs of the Deuce and is off to Knoxville.

4:10 p.m., Saginaw, Mich.: The Bush campaign plane filled with reporters departs for Pittsburgh. The candidate will take a separate flight directly to his next stop in West Virginia. On the reporters' plane, back where the television camera crews and still photographers sit, the walls are plastered with slogans and pictures. The orange and black streamers that were put up for Halloween have just come down. Soft landings are sometimes applauded because the pilot has a reputation for touching down rather hard.

4:35 p.m., Alcoa, Tenn. At this airport in his home state, Gore tells a crowd of about 5,000, "I want to give a report from the battleground states and from the heartland all over this country. This is not a poll, this is not some pundit giving you a prognostication. I'm telling you, right now, and you can write it down and book it, we're going to win the White House on Tuesday."

5:15 p.m., Pittsburgh: The press plane arrives and the journalists board buses for the long drive to Morgantown, W.Va. It's a quiet ride with several reporters using the time to catch up on much needed sleep.

6:50 p.m., Morgantown, W.Va: Bush flight from Saginaw arrives.

7:30 p.m., Morgantown, W.Va: Press buses arrive.

7:50 p.m., Morgantown, W.Va: Bush takes the stage in the Morgantown High School gym. Among the celebrities: Miss West Virginia and former NFL quarterback Jeff Hofstetler. It is the first time that coal is mentioned on stage all week. West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood complains that the Clinton administration's energy and environmental policies have cost the state thousands of mining jobs. He said Gore also criticized a study by West Virginia University that indicates the Kyoto Treaty on global warming would cost thousands of more jobs.

"He's trashed our workers, he's trashed our university and we're going to trash him next week," Underwood says.

Bush, who holds a slight lead in a state that voted Democratic in the past three presidential elections, says he understands the importance of coal and mining jobs.

"Democrats in this state know this country needs leadership," Bush says.

8:20 p.m., Morgantown, W.Va.: Outside the high school gym, Dallas Morning News reporter Wayne Slater does yet another interview, this one with a television station, about what Bush did or didn't tell him in 1998 about being arrested.

8:45 p.m., Morgantown, W.Va.: Bush departs for Detroit, while the members of the press ride the buses back to Pittsburgh, from where they, too, will fly to Detroit.

8:55 p.m., Memphis, Tenn. The Gore campaign arrives in Memphis and heads for a rally downtown and a stop at the city's famous Peabody Hotel for a little shut-eye.

9:50 p.m., Detroit: Bush arrives and will spend the night. The press plane won't arrive for more than an hour. Then, they are shuttled off to Dearborn, Mich., to try to sleep for a little bit before it all starts again.

Today's schedule: Bush plans rallys in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Newark before flying to Jacksonville.

Gore has scheduled stops in Memphis, Tenn., Huntington, W.Va., Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Candidates coming to Tampa again

George W. Bush will appear at a rally Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa as part of a five-stop barnstorming tour of Florida. The event is expected to begin about 4:30 p.m. It will be free and open to the public. Bush will arrive late tonight in Jacksonville to start his ninth visit to the state. Sunday morning, he will be joined by Gov. Jeb Bush for church services in Jacksonville. The Bushes will then head to an airport rally in West Palm Beach, a rally at Tamiami Park in Miami, to the rally in Tampa and then end the day with an airport rally in Orlando.

* * *

Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to visit Florida on Monday and remain in the state early Tuesday, campaign aides said Friday. He is tentatively scheduled to visit Tampa and Miami. The visit will be Gore's 13th to the state.

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