Gore targets battleground states, both concerned over Florida

Sunday, November 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Both predicting victory, Al Gore and George W. Bush sprinted through battleground states and urged supporters to get out and vote on Election Day.

In the 48-hour run-up to Tuesday's election, the two were contesting big states and little, both claiming a confidence belied by a heavy campaign schedule.

``This election comes down to a very few states,'' Gore said Sunday as he made a round of appearances at black churches. ``I need your help on Tuesday.''

Bush was spending the day in Florida, where his brother's status as governor had led many to assume the state would be safely in the GOP column. Polls show Gore running strongly there.

``Great way to start off the stretch run,'' he told reporters before entering St. Andrews church in Jacksonville with wife Laura for services. ``No politics, just prayer and reflection.''

Afterward, shaking hands with the Rev. Gretchen Van Aken, she told Bush: ``Remember, the Lord himself chooses the right man.''

Before leaving for a rally in West Palm Beach, Bush also prayed and had breakfast with the Rev. Billy Graham, who all but endorsed the Republican presidential nominee.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also pitched in, telling Sunday talk-show interviewers his brother will win Florida because ``he has a message that people really believe in.''

Gore was sprinting through the close, seeking to energize his political base with appearances before blacks and union leaders. His selection of campaign venues showed his electoral betting.

Gore urged black congregations to ``feel the hope'' and warned they have the most at stake.

``There's a choice on Tuesday between two very different pathways into the future,'' he said.

The Democrat also planned big rallies Sunday in Philadelphia and Detroit, and also was headed to Wisconsin and Iowa. He planned to visit Florida and return to Pennsylvania before Tuesday.

While Gore campaigned in the East and Midwest, running mate Joseph Lieberman covered the West with visits to New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state.

He urged activists in Albuquerque, N.M., to stress the differences between Bush and Gore.

``The difference is between night and day, and Al Gore is the day,'' Lieberman said. ``It's the last lap, and with your help it will be a victory lap to the White House.''

Bush running mate Dick Cheney was campaigning in California and Nevada.

Most national polls give a slight edge to Bush, but Gore is running strong in some big battleground states and the two are often crossing paths as they contest the same states.

Pennsylvania and Michigan are key to Gore's strategy, while he hopes to steal an unexpected victory in Florida that would hurt Bush's effort by grabbing that state's 25 electoral votes.

There was little subtlety in the campaign's close. Bush was making his core argument that voters are ready for a change after eight years of controversy under President Clinton, while Gore was saying the administration has gotten the economy perking and voters should keep the prosperity going.

Under those themes, Bush argues that Gore can't be trusted and Gore warns that Bush cares only for the wealthy. Both are seeking to project an air of confidence, claiming campaign momentum in the race's final hours even as they took nothing for granted.

``We're coming down the stretch,'' Bush told backers Saturday. ``I want you to man those phones. With your help, we're going to win.''

``We're going to win,'' Gore said. ``Write it down _ book it.''

Bush said the stark contrasts he's sketched should ``spell victory on November 7.''

Both also claimed backing from unlikely quarters. Bush pointed to a sign declaring a Democrat to be backing Bush. ``You're not alone, buddy,'' Bush chortled.

``I saw a sign over there that said `Republicans for Gore' and I appreciate that,'' said Gore.

Gore warned that middle-class families have the biggest stake in this year's election.

``My friends, we need to respond to the needs of working families,'' said Gore. ``I will be a president for the working people.''

Both were preparing to head home to await Tuesday's verdict. Bush plans to watch returns in Austin, Texas, while Gore heads to Nashville, Tenn.