By LAURIE KELLMAN
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The tight race for the White House forced George W. Bush and Al Gore to fight for political home turf today. The vice president campaigned in his native Tennessee, accusing Bush of giving short shrift to education, while the governor got a boost from his brother in Florida.
“It’s time we have someone who inspires us in the White House. We have not had that in seven years,” said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, along for a day of rallies in a state vital to his big brother’s campaign.
Defeated GOP rival John McCain also joined the Florida bus tour, saying Bush was “fully prepared” to be president. Bringing up the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole, McCain said, “We still live in a very dangerous world, we need a steady hand on the tiller.”
Tied in national polls only 13 days before the election, both Bush and Gore were forced to stump in states they hoped to have locked up by now. Bush had a 46-41 edge in Florida, vital to his campaign, a new poll today said. Polls have put them about even in Tennessee, which Gore represented in Congress for 16 years.
“We’re each in places we thought maybe we wouldn’t be in at this time,” Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, told CNN from Nashville, Tenn. “That’s a big message to voters – come out and vote.”
In a speech at Tennessee State University, Gore criticized Bush’s education plan as “half measures that fall short of what we really need.”
“Under his proposal, he would spend more money on tax cuts to the wealthiest 90,000 multimillionaires than all of the new spending he proposes in all of the 90,000 public schools combined,” Gore said.
Earlier today, Gore talked issues over coffee and doughnuts with firefighters at Nashville’s No. 9 station. One complained that his mother spends $700 to $800 each month on prescription drugs.
Gore said some drug companies spend more on advertising than on research and development. “It comes from your mother’s budget and it’s flat wrong,” he said.
In Florida, McCain urged supporters to reassure older voters about Bush’s Social Security plan in light of Democratic attacks.
“Every four years it happens … scare the seniors about Social Security,” McCain said at the Daytona Beach rally. “Don’t let them scare the seniors in Florida.”
Down the road in Sanford, Bush said Gore’s Social Security plan “doesn’t solve the problem. He shuffles it down the road. … He loads it up with IOUs on a future generation.”
Squabbling over Social Security and tax cuts have taken center stage in the presidential campaign.
“He’s the biggest spender we’ve ever had in the history of politics,” Bush told reporters as he boarded his plane late Tuesday to fly here after tweaking Gore in Tennessee.
The vice president shot back: “I’m opposed to big government” and promised not to add a single federal worker as he attacked Bush for pushing tax-cut and Social Security plans he says the nation can’t afford.
Hovering over the candidates on their final sprint is the prospect of President Clinton getting involved and the political risks and benefits involved. Over the weekend, Clinton dipped a toe into presidential politics by criticizing Bush’s statements.
Bush seemed delighted to respond with his own warning Tuesday, suggesting that any presidential involvement in the election could raise the specter of Monica Lewinsky and impeachment, a chapter that Americans “would just rather forget.”
“If he can’t help himself and starts getting out there and campaigns against me, the shadow returns,” Bush said playfully, fielding a question about impeachment from a voter in suburban Chicago.
“I may say something,” he added, pausing, “in defense of my record. But it’s time to move on.”
Gore jumped on a think tank report that suggested Texas students’ rising test scores, trumpeted by Gov. Bush, may be misleading because students didn’t do as well on a national test.
“We can’t afford to just teach kids how to take a take a state test, while leaving them with serious learning deficits, any more than we can afford to cook the books and bust our budget,” Gore said today.
The Bush campaign rejected the study. Today on NBC’s “Today,” Bush education adviser Margaret LaMontagne said by “comparing apples and oranges” researchers came up “with a conclusion that just is not found by any other organization or group.”
Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers echoed Gore’s Social Security arguments, telling The Washington Post in an interview published today that Bush’s proposal reveals his “fundamental misunderstanding” of the retirement program.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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