By MIKE GLOVER
NEW YORK – Al Gore said today he’ll welcome campaign help from President Clinton in the final weeks before the election, but he declared anew, “This is a campaign that I am running on my own.”
Some Democrats have been urging Gore to ask for more help and Clinton to provide it. However, the two are not expected to campaign together.
“The president is my friend and I appreciate his help in the campaign,” Gore said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve had a chance to work together and we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of good things on behalf of the American people.”
As Election Day nears, both Gore and rival George W. Bush are tapping into complex alliances, and doing so in states crucial to this year’s tight presidential race.
Bush headed to New England today to campaign with Arizona Sen. John McCain, who put up a stiff fight for the Republican presidential nomination before fading. Speaking without McCain at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Bush said the Arizona senator had food poisoning and was unable to attend, but would join the candidate later in the day.
“He ate some rotten crawfish in Mississippi last night and is not feeling very well,” Bush told hundreds of enthusiastic supporters.
Bush said he and McCain remained close.
“Our friendship is now as strong as ever,” he said, invoking McCain’s name several times.
“If John were here, I would thank him for introducing legislation, that I would sign, that would prevent the Congress from shutting down the government,” Bush said.
McCain was expected to appear with Bush in Bangor, Maine, this afternoon. He was also expected to campaign with Bush running mate Dick Cheney in Michigan on Monday, and with Bush in Florida on Wednesday.
Bush said he hoped to campaign soon with and other Republican stars as well, including 29 GOP governors and retired Gen. Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Gore, meanwhile, was launching a television campaign in New Hampshire reminding voters that McCain argued in the primary season that Bush offered “not one new penny for Social Security.”
“That’s anything but straight talk,” the Gore ad says, mimicking McCain’s campaign slogan.
In an issue-oriented interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Gore declined to say whether he was held to a higher standard than Bush in the candidates’ three debates.
“It’s not up to me to judge,” he said. “I think that all three of the debates, taken as a whole, will sort of be mulled over by people. I think people are deciding very late in this election. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
Gore struggled to distance himself from Democrats’ quips about Bush’s intelligence, insisting none of the comments was made on his behalf.
“I do not raise any questions about his capacity,” Gore said. “He is a governor. You know, these are the kinds of judgments that the American people have to make.”
Clinton and Gore were joining at a memorial for Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash. Gore wouldn’t rule out future joint appearances with Clinton, though he warned Clinton has a full plate. “The schedule hasn’t been worked out day-to-day,” he said.
Gore rarely mentions Clinton on the campaign trail, though claiming credit for the nation’s economic priority is the underpinning of his campaign. There have been reports of tension between the two, suggestions that Gore rejected.
Bush received the endorsement today of The Washington Times which said he “far surpasses Vice President Al Gore whether the qualifications are measured in terms of political priorities, leadership, personal character, governmental philosophies or vision of the future.”
“On issue after issue … Bush offers the correct approach to the problems confronting America,” the paper said.
Bush is challenging Gore throughout New England, while Missouri is a tossup battleground state.
McCain scored against Bush during the primary season, largely by attracting independent voters crucial to the general election.
One of McCain’s key issues is campaign finance reform, where he has big disagreements with Bush. The Gore ad campaign was aimed at reminding voters of their disagreements.
The two also planned to campaign together in northern Florida next week. While relations between them have been cool, they have sought to ease those tensions.
Much of McCain’s appeal was as a maverick, and his support likely won’t automatically transfer to the more establishment Bush.
Gore is seeking to make the election a referendum on the nation’s economy and the administration’s policies. That’s delicate because mentioning President Clinton also brings his personal foibles to the debate. Asked during a taping of “Live with Regis” if Clinton offered campaign advice, Gore demurred.
“Not too much, no,” said Gore. “It’s something you really have to do on your own.”
But he stood with Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton at a noisy union rally in New York, along with running mate Joseph Lieberman.
“I am proud to be on that team,” Mrs. Clinton said. “It is the Gore-Lieberman-Clinton team that will keep the prosperity and progress going.
Both presidential campaigns are looking for any edge they can get, because polls have shown the race a photo finish. A new national poll by NBC and a poll by Voter.com of battleground states both showed the race within the margin of error.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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