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Candidates duel for Florida votes

Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman brought their ideas about Social Security and questions about George W. Bush's experience to Florida to challenge the Bush family's influence in a state vital to both sides in Tuesday's election.

Bush was due back in Florida later in the week, with his father, the former president, and brother, the state's governor, also seeking support for him there. Bush began Wednesday across the country at a Seattle fish market, shaking hands and talking tax relief, before heading to Midwestern battleground states.

After joking with Jay Leno on the ``Tonight Show'' in California, Gore raced east early Wednesday to a state with one of the nation's oldest populations, where he promised to ``honor our fathers and mothers'' by shoring up Social Security.

``I don't want to gamble with the program that is the cornerstone of retirement security for millions of Americans,'' Gore said in Kissimmee.

Earlier, Gore stopped at an Orlando-area coffee shop crowded with supporters to pitch his proposals for a Medicare benefit covering prescription drugs and a tax break for families caring at home for elderly or disabled relatives.

Gore told one family that not only would they benefit personally, but ``our country benefits in keeping families stronger.'' He added, ``I just don't go for this everybody for himself philosophy''

Lieberman was already in Florida, repeating his criticism of Bush's readiness to lead and chatting with firefighters, police officers and senior citizens before an afternoon of rallies.

``If we win it here, we'll win it everywhere,'' Lieberman said early Wednesday on NBC's ``Today.''

Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, also came to the state for the day. Over coffee with GOP volunteers at a Palm Beach diner, Cheney predicted ``a clean sweep in Florida,'' plugging Bush and Republican Reps. Clay Shaw and Bill McCollum.

Gov. Jeb Bush also predicted victory for his brother.

``He's going to carry Florida,'' he said on ABC's ``Good Morning America.'' But some polls show the race a tossup, and the Democrats were pushing hard.

The governor defended his brother's new TV ad accusing Gore of ``bending the truth'' on Social Security and prescription drugs. He said Gore was using false charges about Bush's Social Security plan ``as a club to scare people across the country.''

The Gore campaign took a softer approach with its latest ad, emphasizing the vice president's experience. But the campaign planned to air an ad with a direct attack on Bush's readiness for the job by the weekend.

``I don't think ... he is ready to be the kind of president America needs now to keep us going forward, and Al Gore really is,'' Lieberman said on NBC.

Lieberman denied using scare tactics on Social Security, saying the Democrats were ``factually describing'' how Bush's plan promises the same $1 trillion to retirees that it would give those still working to invest in the stock market.

Bush toured fish markets and vegetable stands on the Seattle waterfront, with vendors tossing large salmon around one stall as a backdrop. ``I'm telling hard-working people they're going to get tax relief,'' Bush said.

The Texas governor looked perplexed when one vendor greeted him: ``Hello, Mr. Vice President.'' Bush shook his hand, said ``I'm running for president,'' and moved on without correcting the record.

In the closest campaign in 20 years, with a chance that next Tuesday will see the closest presidential election in 40, each man had his messages set and his speeches down pat.

In California on Tuesday, Bush claimed he would take the state _ it would be a major upset _ and went north to post forecasts of victory next Tuesday in Washington and Oregon, too. ``We're chasing away conventional wisdom'' about the Democratic habits of winning the three states in presidential elections, said Bush.

Even when they agreed that the federal budget surplus is ``the people's money,'' they acidly accused each other of proposals that would overspend and squander it. Bush said Gore wants to spend it on big government, Gore said Bush wants to give it to the rich in tax cuts they don't need.

``You might remember the language, the harsh language, about our campaign stands with the rich and he's with the working people,'' Bush countered at a rally at Bellevue Community College, near Seattle, Tuesday night. He paused. ``I can't remember what he said _ I quit listening after the third debate.''

In Portland, Bush said Gore's accusation was ``just class warfare ... the kind of politics we need to get rid of in America.'' Gore said Bush was the one proposing ``a form of class warfare favoring millionaires'' with his tax cut proposal.

President Clinton was also working to rally voters for Nov. 7.

Clinton plans to visit his home state of Arkansas on behalf of a Democratic congressional candidate Friday night and Saturday. Gore's campaign, which has asked Clinton to stay out of most battleground states, did not object to the Arkansas visit because aides believe the president can increase turnout to Gore's benefit without alienating swing voters there.

Gore appeared on the ``Tonight Show,'' Bush's stage a night earlier. The vice president was shown photographs of himself in Halloween costumes, and confided that he once had taken a national security telephone call while dressed as Frankenstein.

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