By TOM RAUM
ORLANDO, Fla. – With the presidential contest still neck and neck a day before the nation votes, Al Gore and George W. Bush made their final sustained pushes today through battleground states.
Republican Bush promised “a sprint to the finish,” while Gore told audiences it’s time “to move your feet.” Both candidates emphasized get-out-the-vote drives, hoping to energize their core supporters and reach still-undecided voters.
Leaving Florida for the last time before the election, Bush told reporters, “We’ve laid the groundwork for victory, now it’s up (to us) to get people to the polls.”
Bush said he was “excited” heading into Tuesday’s election.
“I trust the people. I trust they have heard our message. And tomorrow I believe we’re going to have a good day. People got to go vote. My supporters have got to make sure they show up.”
Bush was avoiding the tightest battleground states – Michigan and Pennsylvania, for example – sticking an election-eve thumb in the eye of Democrats by visiting Arkansas and Tennessee, the home turfs of President Clinton and Gore, respectively.
Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, Bush strategist Karl Rove said Republicans were concentrating on get-out-the-vote efforts in the campaign’s last 10 days, placing 70 million phone calls to voters, sending out 110 million pieces of mail and mobilizing 243,000 volunteers in 28 battleground states.
While both had full schedules today, Gore went a step further, campaigning around the clock and appearing with wife Tipper Gore on all three networks’ morning shows. In a wind-blown cold rain, he addressed about 100 campaign volunteers this morning in Waterloo, Iowa
“You are the ones who are going to make a difference in this race,” he said. “That’s what’s going to win this race.”
The closeness of the election, he said, means that voter turnout will be key and volunteer operations essential.
“Once again, it’s in your hands, and I know it’s in good hands,” Gore said.
On CBS’ “The Early Show,” Mrs. Gore called a vote for her husband “the last, best hope for everybody – so I wish they’d get to the polls for him because it means that you’ll have a president that has foreign policy experience as well as one really committed to keeping the economy growing and going strong.”
Before night lightened to morning, Gore stood under a black umbrella meeting workers as they reported for shift at a John Deere tractor plant. He grinned when a red pickup truck slowed in the street and its driver shouted, “Give George Bush hell tomorrow!”
Gore was campaigning in Missouri, Michigan and Florida – including a dawn gathering at a Tampa, Fla., coffee shop – before heading home to Tennessee to vote and await the returns.
Bush spent the night in Orlando after a five-city blitz through Florida, the most populous swing state. Today, the Texas governor was campaigning in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa and Arkansas before returning to his home in Austin, Texas.
Florida is crucial to Bush’s hopes of capturing the White House, but polls continue to show a close race.
At a Philadelphia rally, Gore told a crowd, “This is one of those elections that you’re going to tell your grandchildren about.”
How important is last-minute campaigning?
In a close race, the final places you go can be crucial, said Rove.
Bush’s campaigning in Tennessee, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Arkansas “gives us a shot in five very competitive states,” Rove said in an interview.
Bush was not actually campaigning in Illinois today, but the Iowa stop is in Davenport, across the Mississippi River from Illinois.
During get-out-the-vote phone calls today, the candidates’ running mates both had to convince voters that they really were the running mates.
Joseph Lieberman visited a local Democratic headquarters in St. Paul., Minn., dialing 85-year-old Marie Connelly.
“Hey Marie, believe it or not, this is Joe Lieberman. I am running for vice president,” he said. Lieberman later said Connelly’s response was, “Aw, come on.” But he persisted: “It really is me, it is not a recorded announcement.”
Connelly said she was voting for him and Gore. “Ah, you are wonderful. You made my morning. I love you,” Lieberman told her.
In Las Vegas, Bush running mate Dick Cheney picked up the phone and told a voter, “Hello, this is Dick Cheney – no, I really am – it really is me. Need a ride to the polls or anything?”
Cheney later told volunteers, “Tomorrow marks the end of the Clinton-Gore era.”
Pre-election surveys suggested the battle could be the closest in generations, and indeed the Senate and the House were up for grabs too, with Republicans seeking to retain control.
National polls gave a narrow edge to Bush in the presidential race, but Gore’s support in large battleground states made for an unpredictable race to 270 electoral votes and victory.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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