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Staying positive as judgment nears

As George W. Bush crisscrosses Florida on Sunday, he says he will purge the country of the "old-style politics'' of Al Gore.

By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 2000


TAMPA -- George W. Bush took the grand tour.

Just two days before the election, the Texas governor darted around Florida on Sunday like a candidate for statewide office rather than the Republican nominee for president as he tried to win over a state that has proved to be more fickle than expected.

Bush attended church and visited with an old family friend and counselor, the Rev. Billy Graham, in Jacksonville. He shared the stage in West Palm Beach with New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He spoke Spanish, denounced Cuba's Fidel Castro and introduced Latin musicians John Secada and Emilio Estefan in Miami. He joined country singer Hank Williams Jr. and retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, then landed at a late-night rally in Orlando.

"You're counting on me and I'm counting on you to turn out a large vote next Tuesday," Bush told thousands of supporters in Tampa. "I'm here to look y'all in the eye and say: "I want your vote. I want your help.' "

At each stop, Bush and his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, predicted the Republican would win the state's 25 electoral votes Tuesday even as polls continue to show a statistical tie or put Vice President Al Gore slightly ahead.

"I trust my little brother," George W. Bush told a smallish crowd of less than 2,000 at the airport rally in West Palm Beach. "I trust him a lot, like you do. And when he looked me in the eye and said Florida is going to be Bush-Cheney, I believe him."

But even as the Bush brothers rallied the crowds, strategists were telling reporters that Gore needs to carry Florida more than Bush does to reach the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.

"There's no way Gore gets to 270 without winning Florida," said Bush strategist Karl Rove, who predicts Bush will win the state. "There are lots of ways for us to get to 270, because we have a larger base."

Sunday's tour also underscored Florida's importance for Bush. Florida will be the only state where he spent an entire day when his final eight-day campaign swing ends in Austin, Texas, tonight.

No Republican has won the presidency without carrying Florida since Calvin Coolidge in 1924. But Bush aides have offered several scenarios in which the Texas governor could pull it off. For example, they have said, Bush could offset a loss in Florida by winning Oregon, Washington and Iowa. Those three states combine for 25 electoral votes, Florida's total, and have been won by Democrats in the last three presidential elections.

Throughout the day, Bush worked harder at creating an upbeat tone heading into the election than at sorting out specific policy differences with Gore. He described himself as a positive leader who would unite the country while portraying Gore as an attacker who pits constituency groups against each other. Several times at each stop, Bush tied the Democrat to "old-style politics."

"People know there's a difference not only of philosophies but of style and of willingness to lead," Bush said in West Palm Beach. "They can try to scare. They can make those ugly phone calls and fake TV ads, but we have a chance on Nov. 7 to purge this country of the old style of politics."

Added Jeb Bush: "Floridians want someone with a common-sense agenda who will bring people together rather than divide people. I'm sick and tired of the scare tactics, George. I'm sick and tired. I know Floridians are tired of it."

In Tampa, even Schwarzkopf took a shot at the Democrats about their campaign tactics: "Get out there and let's wage a counterattack of the truth."

Bush told Florida seniors not to believe Gore's criticisms of his Social Security proposal. The Republican wants to let younger workers divert a portion of their payroll taxes from Social Security into private investment accounts. Gore argues that could threaten seniors' existing benefits sooner.

But Bush insists seniors and older workers would be guaranteed their benefits under the current system.

"Where I come from," Bush said in Tampa, "when you try to tear somebody down, it means you're not too proud of your own stand."

He also made his usual pitch for his $1.3-trillion tax cut proposal, which brought applause at each stop.

"You shouldn't be thanking me," Bush said at a rally on the football field at Florida International University in Miami. "It's your money to begin with."

Bush began the day in Jacksonville, where he attended Old St. Andrews Episcopal Church and met with Graham.

"I think it's a crucial election, a critical election in the history of America," Graham said. "I've been praying that God's will shall be done. I don't endorse candidates. But I've come as close to it, I guess, now as any time in my life."

Meanwhile, Jeb Bush taped a series of Sunday talk shows. He brushed aside Gore's insinuation that this is an election that pits good versus evil.

"I'm confident that Dr. Graham will be able to purge all that evilness from my brother's soul," the Florida governor joked on CBS's Face the Nation.

From Jacksonville, Bush flew to West Palm Beach, where Wayne Newton entertained the crowd at the airport before the campaign plane arrived. Then it was on to Miami for the rally at FIU, where the Bush brothers spoke Spanish.

"We will keep the pressure on Fidel Castro until the people are free!" Bush told the crowd, which chanted, "Viva Bush!"

Giuliani, who campaigned for Jeb Bush in West Palm Beach two years ago, spent the weekend in South Florida working for the Texas governor. The area has many retired New Yorkers. "Half of my city lives here," Giuliani joked.

Also along for the trip: Jeb's son, George P. Bush; retiring Sen. Connie Mack; and Senate candidate Bill McCollum.

Gore hopes to build an advantage of more than 200,000 votes in South Florida, primarily in heavily Democratic Broward County. Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman, the first Jewish politician on a mainstream national political ticket, has made roughly a dozen trips to South Florida to rally Jewish Democrats.

Bush's stops in Miami-Dade County, where he enjoys an enormous lead among Cuban-American voters, and in Palm Beach County were aimed at cutting into Gore's advantage.

"You do your part," Jeb Bush told supporters in West Palm Beach, "and the rest of the state will do its part."

The tour continued on to Tampa, where thousands awaited at the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and to the late rally in Orlando. Bush used his younger brother as an example to illustrate his call for Americans to help each other:

"I called him the other day just to let him know the turkey at Thanksgiving could be a little chilly, if you know what I mean. But he couldn't come to the phone because he was mentoring a student."

The upbeat, confident mood in the Bush campaign is reflected by today's travel schedule. Bush will visit Gore's home state of Tennessee and President Clinton's home state of Arkansas, with stops in Iowa and Wisconsin, states that traditionally vote Democratic, before arriving home in Austin late tonight.

Rove predicts Bush will win 320 electoral votes Tuesday, then cautioned that it is only a calculated guess.

"No one should underestimate the amount of work that needs to be done," he said.

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