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Bush hits hard in swing states in final days

The GOP nominee will now focus squarely on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida - and their 66 electoral votes.

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By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


GLENSIDE, Pa. -- George W. Bush portrayed himself as the candidate who would restore values and integrity to the White House on Saturday as he marched through the swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania on his way to Florida, the biggest prize.

Bush, flanked by running mate Dick Cheney and retired Gen. Colin Powell at the first stop in Michigan, offered red-meat Republican themes to thousands of cheering supporters at four rallies in three states. Bush and the two heroes from the Persian Gulf War focused on strengthening the military, slashing taxes and preaching faith in family and country.

The shadow of President Clinton and his impeachment loomed large. Cheney and Powell reminded the crowds of the scandal and Bush followed with a pledge to lead the country with principles and honor.

"The president can set an example for the moms and dads of America," Bush said at a rally in an airplane hangar in Pittsburgh.

The renewed emphasis on values and trust came just days after Bush confirmed that he had been arrested for driving under the influence in 1976 in Maine. Bush, who has called the incident a mistake and gave up drinking in 1986, did not specifically mention the arrest Saturday as the campaign tried to put the issue behind it just three days before the election.

An ABC News poll found 15 percent of likely voters believe Bush's DUI conviction raised questions about his fitness for the job.

Bush landed in Jacksonville late Saturday night and will spend today in Florida as he tries to nail down the state's 25 electoral votes. After attending church services in Jacksonville, he will hold rallies in West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

The Tampa rally, at Raymond James Stadium, is free to the public. The event begins at 4:30 p.m., but Bush is not expected to arrive until after 6:30 p.m.

The Democratic Party sent out a mailing in Florida that alleged Bush has put tax breaks for oil companies before children's health insurance in Texas.

"In George W. Bush's Texas, she'd get more help if she owned an oil company," declared the front of a mailing, with a picture of a young woman holding her face in her hands and crying in a doorway.

At a morning rally in Dearborn, Mich., Powell warned voters to ignore last-minute attacks.

"Don't be distracted by the little sniping that comes in from the flanks," he told the crowd.

After spending much of last week campaigning in states that have voted Democratic in the last two or three elections and were once thought to be safe for Gore, Bush is spending this weekend in the three largest states where the outcome is uncertain: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida. Those states combine for 66 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, and whoever wins two of three is expected to win the election.

Recent opinion polls in all three states indicate Bush and Vice President Al Gore are in statistical ties, but each candidate also can point to polls that indicate they are slightly ahead.

In Michigan, for example, one poll shows Bush one point ahead. Another shows him 10 points behind. A Saturday headline in the Detroit News and Free Press summed up the confusion created by a flurry of national and state polls: "Bush keeps lead as Gore runs strong."

Both candidates are focusing on Florida, a state Bush once was expected to win easily. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani campaigned for Bush in South Florida Saturday, while Joseph Lieberman also returned there.

Before joining his brother at campaign rallies today, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is scheduled to appear on no less than four morning talk shows.

There were a couple of rough spots Saturday morning in Dearborn. A yard sign on the way to the rally read: "Bush Go Home Just Don't Drive." A heavy wind blew over a hot air balloon at the rally. Then the president of the Michigan Teamsters union, Larry Brennan, introduced Powell as Adam Clayton Powell -- the late congressman from New York.

Powell raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

Brennan endorsed Bush, although the Teamsters endorsed Gore late in the campaign. Also joining Bush on stage in Michigan were actor Bo Derek and Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

"You can say goodbye to your snowmobiles and off-road vehicles," Campbell warned of Gore's environmental policies. "They'll shut down all of the lands."

But for the most part, Saturday was a smooth ride for Bush as he worked his way through Pittsburgh and suburban Philadelphia. The campaign made a late-scheduled stop in New Jersey, where Gore's lead has dropped, before flying on to Jacksonville.

Powell, who might be nominated as secretary of state in a Bush administration, spent the day with Bush and warmed up the crowd before Bush took the stage.

"One of the jobs of a leader is to find the best and get the best," Bush told the crowd in Pittsburgh. "I found one of the best in Dick Cheney, and with three days to go, I'm not offering anybody any jobs. But let me put it this way: I'm glad Colin Powell is here."

On the campaign plane's flight from Philadelphia to Newark Saturday night, staffers and reporters sang Happy Birthday to Bush's wife, Laura. Bush stood with his wife in the airplane's aisle and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

* * *

Today's Bush rally at Raymond James Stadium is free to the public. The event begins at 4:30 p.m., and will feature Hank Williams Jr. Bush is expected to arrive after 6:30 p.m.

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