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Gore, Bush cast race as choice between continuity and new leadership

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Al Gore and George W. Bush, two Southern sons of political privilege, fought Saturday into the campaign's final hours to replace Bill Clinton, casting the century's first American presidential election as a choice between Democratic continuity or a ``new kind of leadership.''

``Three days and a few hours from now the polls will close and we will wait on the verdict of the American people,'' the Democratic vice president declared. ``Will we go back on the policies of the past or will we go forward to better times?''

Republican Texas Gov. Bush offered himself as a fresh start, saying voters waited eight years for stronger schools, better health care, retirement security and political civility, but ``we ain't seen nothing yet'' from Democrats.

Americans themselves will raise the final voice in the noisy national political campaign, selecting a new president Tuesday and determining the course of Congress and statehouses across the nation.

Against the odds, Democrats were hoping to wrest control of the Senate from Republicans, who hold a 54-46 advantage but must protect a stable of vulnerable incumbents from Delaware to Washington state. Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Missouri, battled a dead man _ his Democratic rival, former Gov. Mel Carnahan, died in an October plane accident and now his widow is vying for a posthumous appointment.

Hillary Rodham Clinton sought the New York Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Win or lose, her race was a first for an American first lady.

All 435 House seats are on the ballot as both sides jockey for control. Republicans hold 222 seats, Democrats 209 with two held by independents and two vacant. Whichever party holds 218 seats after the election gets to install the speaker, run committees and set the agenda.

The most expensive House race in history was in California, where Democrats hoped to make Rep. James Rogan pay the ultimate political price for serving as a House prosecutor in Clinton's impeachment trial. His race against state Sen. Adam Schiff was tight.

On the state level, Democrats hold seven of 11 governorships at stake Tuesday and both parties stand a chance of picking up a seat or two. Overall, there are 18 Democratic governors, 30 Republicans and two independents.

In five of the races, women are among the major-party nominees. If three of them win, which is highly possible, the nation would have five female governors _ the most in history.

Getting little attention are the 5,910 state legislative seats on the ballot in 44 states. Democratic and Republican strategists have targeted 200 of them in about 20 states where control of one or both legislative chambers is at stake.

Millions of dollars will be spent on these below-the-radar races because the newly elected state politicians will play a huge role in drawing the next decade's congressional district maps. With Capitol Hill so closely divided, the slightest bit of gerrymandering could tilt the balance of power long after Tuesday's vote.

Public opinion polls suggested the race for 270 presidential electoral votes was close, with more than a dozen states up for grabs. Both campaigns said Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania _ with a combined 66 electoral votes _ could decide the race.

On the surface, both candidates have similarities. Gore, 52, educated at Harvard, the son of a senator, with eight year's of service as vice president; Bush, 54, educated at Yale, the son of a president, with nearly six years as governor of Texas.

Their chief policy differences centered around money _ how to spend or save trillions of dollars in extra tax receipts _ but often the debate was framed in more pointedly personal terms: Republicans said Gore can't be trusted; Democrats said Bush is not ready to be president.

Democrats hoped a 1976 drunk-driving conviction, kept private by Bush until reporters forced his hand, would help make their case against the Texas governor. An ABC News poll released Saturday suggested that many voters won't be swayed by the arrest.

In his home state of Tennessee, Gore confronted polls that show Bush the more likable candidate.

``You know that it doesn't matter whether my coat is on or off, what color suit I wear, what kind of tie I put on. You don't care, actually, of the facial expressions I have or whether I sigh into the microphone,'' Gore said, striking an unusually reflective tone. ``Because you know me you know what is in my heart.''

With Gore pinned down at home, Bush stormed through Midwest battlegrounds of Michigan and Pennsylvania. ``In three short days, we'll have new leadership in Washington,'' the Texan said in suburban Detroit, joined by running mate Dick Cheney, retired Gen. Colin Powell, and a local Teamsters official.

``In three short days,'' Bush said, ``we'll have new leadership in the nation's capital.''

This will be the most expensive election in history with candidates, parties and special interests spending more than $2 billion in pursuit of the White House and Congress _ surpassing totals in the 1996 election.

Even with the White House, Congress and redistricting at stake, voter turnout is expected to be low, about the same as the 49 percent of the voting age population recorded in 1996 _ the lowest since 1924.

President Clinton called voting a ``fundamental American freedom'' and urged people to cast a ballot.

``The American people will perform the most profound act of our democracy. They'll step into the voting booths all across America,'' he said in his weekly radio address. ``Now, you know my choice. But what's important is your choice. A lot is at stake.''

In reply, Republican Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania said in the GOP address that Bush is ready to usher in a ``New Republican'' era. He promised Social Security reform, improved schools and an era of bipartisanship in Washington.

``It's a new kind of leadership. Leadership that works with both political parties to get results,'' Ridge said.

Notably, Ridge did not mention the Republican Congress. Bush, too, rarely mentions his ties to GOP lawmakers on the campaign trail.

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