Gore, Bush court undecided voters


Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Al Gore sought “every undecided voter” and George W. Bush taunted his rival for failing to wrap up Democratic states as both candidates drove hard into the final weekend of the presidential campaign. Some attention swung to the revelation that Bush had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in 1976.

“What kind of future do you want?” Gore bellowed today at a rally as he sought to energize backers for Tuesday’s election.

Gore raced through Missouri, then headed for Iowa and his home state of Tennessee, where some polls show Bush with a lead. Bush was hunting votes in Michigan and West Virginia, usually a safe state for Democrats but one of several still in doubt this time around.

Bush noted that not only was Gore fighting for Tennessee but President Clinton was campaigning in his home state of Arkansas. “I’m flattered,” Bush said. “We must be doing something right.”

Bush had said Thursday night that he regretted his arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol, but he also said it would not change voters’ minds about him.

He said today at Cornerstone College in Grand Rapids, Mich., “I made mistakes in my life, but I’m proud to tell you I’ve learned from those mistakes.”

Both Bush and campaign aides questioned the timing of the arrest revelation.

Spokeswoman Karen Hughes said, “I think Americans are tired of this kind of last-minute dirty tricks.”

Tom Connolly, a Portland lawyer and Democratic activist who attended the Democratic National Convention, confirmed today to The Associated Press that he was the source of the report.

“It’s not a dirty trick to tell the truth,” Connolly said, maintaining that Bush should have made the case known a long time ago.

Gore focused today on campaign issues, promising anew that he would fight against entrenched interests.

“I’m going to take them on any time they get in the way of what’s right for you and your families,” said Gore. “I’m asking all of you to reach out to every undecided voter.”

At a rally at Millersville State University in Pennsylvania, Bush running mate Dick Cheney told a crowd not to be distracted by last-minute allegations. “Now we’re coming down to the closing days of the campaign, and there’s all kinds of stuff flying around out there,” he said. “The important thing is we keep our eyes on the ball and we remember what we’re going to decide on Tuesday.”

Both candidates are sounding their basic themes in a blinding round of campaign rallies.

Gore played his top card – the economy. Bush ripped into Gore on health care.

“In this fork-in-the-road election prosperity itself is on the ballot,” Gore shouted Thursday to a lunchtime rally with tens of thousands in downtown Chicago. “Vote for your prosperity, vote for your families, vote for a brighter future in the country.”

Bush tried to link Gore to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failed health care effort.

“He’s for a hop, skip and a jump to nationalized health care,” warned Bush. “He thought ‘Hillary care’ made a lot of sense. We think differently.”

Gore also struck at Bush’s qualifications, telling USA Today in an interview published today that voters will have to answer questions about whether the Texas governor is ready to be president.

But, he said, “I do believe that his proposals raise questions about his judgment.”

For his part, Bush said he’s “fully prepared” to lead and that the message if he wins Tuesday will be that voters wanted a change.

“They will have looked at my qualifications and said, ‘George W. is the best leader,’ ” he told the newspaper.

In a sign of his confidence, Bush was making a play for another traditional Democratic area, heading to New Jersey on Saturday before swinging through Florida in a bid to save the state where his brother Jeb is governor from falling to Gore.

Bush also was endorsed Thursday by two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot.

Gore tried to make hay of Bush’s argument to a Missouri crowd that Democrats “want to control Social Security like it was some kind of federal program.” Spokeswoman Karen Hughes later said Bush misspoke and knows that Social Security is a federal program.

But the misstatement drew jeers from a Las Cruces, N.M. crowd of 15,000 when Gore told them about it. “If he thinks it’s not a federal program, maybe it explains (his privatization) proposal,” Gore said to cheers. “But listen, I know that one plus one equals two.”

Polls show the race competitive, and likely to be settled in a handful of states where neither contender has a decisive edge. Attention is centered on places like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Both candidates are blanketing the airwaves in those states, but also giving attention to the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of delivering supports to the polls on Tuesday. They also were staying flexible and looking for places where a last-minute swing could make the difference.

Democrats claimed an edge in organization, while Republicans are cheered by surveys suggesting Republicans are more excited about Bush than Democrats are about Gore.

The candidates themselves are seeking to build the energy level. Gore seeks credit for the strong economy, and argues he’s best suited to keep it going.

“We are not going back. We are going forward. I am not satisfied. You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Gore said, drawing derision from Bush, who remarked that Gore has failed to deliver during nearly eight years as vice president.

“How right he is,” said Bush. “We haven’t seen anything yet.”

Key planks of the Gore platform have been ignored, he said.

“We need to reform Social Security, but we ain’t seen nothing yet,” said Bush. “The country wants to reform Medicare, and we ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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