By Wayne Slater / The Dallas Morning News
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. â€“ George W. Bush offered himself Monday as an antidote to the "attack and conquer" politics of Washington, saying that he would bring people together as president while Democrat Al Gore would practice "the politics of division."
"Our nation is tired of battle," the Republican nominee said in a final-week appeal to undecided voters in a race that polls indicate is too close to call.
In a withering attack on his opponent, Mr. Bush characterized the vice president as a Washington-savvy big spender whose election would perpetuate partisan gridlock and jeopardize the nation's economic prosperity.
But Mr. Gore, campaigning in the Great Lakes states, said the Clinton-Gore administration had ushered in the nation's economic good times and that changing course could "drive our economy into the ditch."
Mr. Bush told several thousand cheering supporters at an airport rally, "There are a lot of independents just looking for more civility and more common sense and more integrity in the conduct of government."
"Should I be elected," the Texas governor said, "we will bring America together."
By contrast, Mr. Bush said, Mr. Gore has neither the temperament nor the policies to cool the fractious political infighting between the White House and the Republican-led Congress.
"There are good people in both parties willing to rise above the confrontation and stalemate of the last eight years," said Mr. Bush, adding that Mr. Gore is not one of them.
"My opponent cannot bring America together because he practices the politics of division," he said. "He talks of 'ripping the lungs out' of political opponents. He scares the elderly for political gain. His campaign attacks are designed to spread falsehood and cynicism."
The Gore camp has pointed to the Democrat's years in Congress as proof that he can work with Republicans as well as Democrats. They say Mr. Bush's attacks are designed to distract voters from the fact that he has limited experience in public service.
Mr. Bush also traveled Monday evening to California, which he predicted he would win despite polls that have consistently showed him trailing the vice president.
Noting that the most recent polls indicate he is gaining on Mr. Gore in the state, Mr. Bush predicted that he would overtake his opponent.
"The big surprise of this election year is I'm going to carry California," he said.
In pressing the theme of bipartisanship, Mr. Bush is seeking to tap voter antipathy with political gridlock that Bush advisers say is reflected in polls and focus groups. As if to underscore the theme, the campaign unveiled new blue-and-gold placards and banners for the campaign's final week bearing the message, "Bringing America Together."
"This election has many issues, but one great question: Can we bring America together, move beyond the petty arguments and get results," Mr. Bush told the crowd in New Mexico, a tossup state with five electoral votes. "This is the question the American people must answer. And if they answer the question 'yes,' we will win."
In lines that elicited derisive laughter from the crowd, Mr. Bush challenged Mr. Gore's credibility and said he's resistant to ideas that would improve education, strengthen the military, save Social Security and provide tax relief for all taxpayers.
"He proposes over 280 new or expanded federal programs â€“ but claims they won't involve one more bureaucrat," he said. "You know what I think? I think he might be exaggerating."
At one point, Mr. Bush flubbed a well-worn line about how Mr. Gore would spend the surplus and poked fun at his own penchant for malapropisms.
"He would suggest the surplus is the people's money," Mr. Bush said, immediately catching himself.
"Excuse me, I mean the government's money," he said. "There I go again."
While Mr. Bush has promoted his leadership credentials, Democratic running mate Joseph Lieberman questioned the governor's qualifications for the second day in a row.
Mr. Bush brushed off the comment. "I never expected to get his vote anyway," he said.