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    Parties' rallies punch up message to get out vote

    By SUSAN THURSTON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


    TAMPA -- With three days left before Election Day, Democrats and Republicans sent their troops out Saturday to whip up support.

    Democrats brought in union leaders for a rally in Lowry Park, while Republicans called in the nephew of George W. Bush to speak to students at the University of South Florida.

    Both parties had one thing in mind: Get people to the polls. Lots of them.

    About 400 people, many of them union members, attended the park rally featuring Hillsborough County Democratic candidates and singer Stephen Stills, who grew up in the Tampa Bay area. Speakers said their votes would be crucial to getting Al Gore elected.

    "If you care about children, if you care about the schools in this state, then you have to get out on Tuesday and take at least five people with you," said Maureen Dinnen, president of the Florida Education Association, which represents about 16,000 school employees in the Tampa Bay area.

    Winning Florida is considered key to both presidential campaigns. The candidates have visited several times and aren't done yet. George W. Bush will appear at a rally today at Raymond James Stadium, and Gore is scheduled to visit Tampa on Monday.

    "Do you realize the eyes of the nation are on you?" Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn told the crowd at Lowry Park. "As Tampa goes, so does the election."

    Linda Chavez-Thompson, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, said Florida voters could make the difference in getting Gore elected.

    "When we win, it will be the state of Florida that is going to put us in the win column," she said to applause.

    Many union members vowed to do their part. Don Gillan of St. Petersburg said he and a lot of co-workers planned to finish their work at a power plant in Fort Myers on Tuesday afternoon, drive home to vote and go back to Fort Myers that night for work the next day.

    "I've got to vote. It's money out of my pocket if I don't," Gillan said. "If Bush wins, the labor movement will go downhill."

    At the University of South Florida, George P. Bush told students his uncle would work hard for education. He shook hands, poised for photographs with supporters and answered questions. He even gave students from King High School in Temple Terrace an interview for their school yearbook.

    "If he wanted to, he could be our first 35-year-old president," said Gino Sierra, a member of the USF College Republicans, which helped organize the event.

    Sierra said he hoped George P. Bush's appearance would help the Bush presidential campaign and would encourage more young people to vote.

    "There's been so much interest in this race," he said. "I think everyone is curious to see what happens."

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