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The early scouting report

By TIM NICKENS Times Political Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 1999


Floridians, at least those of us who have not fled to North Carolina to escape the heat, are about to get a dose of presidential politics.

The Bush Brothers, presidential candidate George W. and Florida governor Jeb, tour the state Friday with a stop in Tampa. Four days later, Vice President Al Gore brings his solo act to Tampa and Miami.

In Iowa and New Hampshire, it's not unusual for people to be greeted by a presidential candidate on their way to work or at their favorite restaurant. But this will be Florida's first look at the front-runners since they both have declared -- surprise -- they want to win the presidency in 2000.

Time for an early scouting report, something similar to analyzing the Tampa Bay Bucs months before they start playing games that count:

Bush, a Republican, is a "compassionate conservative." Gore, a Democrat, sees a "new horizon."

Gore holds hands with his wife, Tipper, on national television and assures America he did not approve of President Clinton's affair. Bush introduces his wife, Laura, at every stop and declares, "if everything goes all right, she's going to be a great first lady for America."

Bush wants to overhaul Head Start and emphasize phonics in teaching kids to read. Gore wants to make preschool available to every child.

Neither one likes government regulations.

Gore wants to keep economic prosperity going. Bush says the Clinton administration thinks it invented prosperity.

Bush: "Prosperity alone is simple materialism. Prosperity must have a greater purpose."

Gore: "The measure is not merely the value of our possessions, but the values we possess."

Neither one grew up poor.

Bush opposes abortion but says America is not ready for a constitutional amendment to ban it. He says he will not use a litmus test to select Supreme Court judges but expects them to reflect his conservative philosophy.

Gore: "Some try to duck the issue of choice. Not me. American women must be able to make that decision for themselves."

Bush lapses into a genuine west Texas twang. Gore lapses into an unnatural growl.

With Gore and Clinton in Washington, the nation's federal deficit disappeared. With Bush in the Texas governor's mansion, the state cut more than $2-billion in taxes.

Gore suddenly wants everyone to know he served in Vietnam, even if it was as a journalist. Bush flew fighter jets for the Texas Air National Guard.

Bush signed into law a Texas bill that prevents local governments from filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers. Gore opposes shielding gunmakers from lawsuits.

Gore, alluding to Bush's inexperience in foreign policy: "You deserve a leader who has been tested in it -- who knows how to protect America, and secure peace and freedom."

Bush, alluding to the Clinton administration's reliance on opinion polls: "I will be an activist president, who sets goals worthy of a great nation. I won't use my office as a mirror to reflect public opinion."

Both believe the world is still a dangerous place.

Gore wants to raise the minimum wage, adopt a patient's bill of rights and expand the Family and Medical Leave Act. Bush says there will be plenty of time for 10-point plans.

Bush: "Some people think it's inappropriate to draw a moral line. Not me."

Gore: "It is our own lives we must master if we are to have the moral authority to guide our children."

Bush wants free trade and promises to break down barriers. Gore wants free trade, with labor and environmental protections.

Both want government to work more closely with faith-based organizations to provide local community programs.

Gore graduated from Harvard. Bush is a Yale man with a graduate degree from Harvard.

Both speak Spanish.

Bush says he believes an old era of politics is ending -- a reference to viewing Gore as an extension of the Clinton presidency.

Gore says he does not want to turn the clock back seven years -- a reference to when Bush's father was president.

Both are raising mountains of campaign money.

Bush wants to give Americans the option of investing part of their Social Security contributions in private accounts. Gore vows never to privatize Social Security or divert money from it.

Gore has spent his life preparing for the presidency and spent 16 years in Congress before becoming vice president in 1993. Bush has spent less than five years as governor of Texas and was called "the accidental candidate" in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

The safe bet is that one of these men is going to be the next president.

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