Gore, Bush Push in Final Weekend

Friday, November 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — George W. Bush and Al Gore sought the momentum heading into the campaign's final weekend, arguing over health care and turning their attention to getting out voters next week as they vied for even the slightest edge.

Gore was dashing Friday through Missouri, Iowa and his home state of Tennessee, where some polls show Republican Bush with a lead. Bush was hunting votes in Michigan and West Virginia, usually a safe state for Democrats but one of several in the mix this time around.

On Thursday, Fox News reported a 1976 arrest and guilty plea by Bush for driving under the influence of alcohol — an incident Bush said he regretted. But he insisted the revelation, just days before Tuesday's presidential election, will do little to change voters' minds about him.

Chris Lehane, a spokesman for Democratic rival Al Gore, denied involvement. ``We had absolutely nothing to do with this,'' he said.

WPXT-TV reporter Erin Fehlau, who broke the story, said the information came from a Portland attorney who told her he was a delegate to this year's Democratic Convention. She would not identify the lawyer, but said she pursued him for the docket sheet.

Fehlau said she looked into the arrest after hearing a rumor at the Cumberland County (Maine) Courthouse.

At a Friday rally at Millersville State University in Pennsylvania, Bush running mate Dick Cheney told a crowd not to be distracted by the charges. ``Now we're coming down to the closing days of the campaign, and there's all kinds of stuff flying around out there,'' he said. ``The important thing is we keep our eyes on the ball and we remember what we're going to decide on Tuesday.''

Both candidates are sounding their basic themes in a blinding round of campaign rallies.

Gore played his top card — the economy. Bush ripped into Gore on health care.

``In this fork-in-the-road election prosperity itself is on the ballot,'' Gore shouted Thursday to a lunchtime rally with tens of thousands in downtown Chicago. ``Vote for your prosperity, vote for your families, vote for a brighter future in the country.''

Bush tried to link Gore to first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's failed health care effort.

``He's for a hop, skip and a jump to nationalized health care,'' warned Bush. ``He thought `Hillary care' made a lot of sense. We think differently.''

Gore also struck at Bush's qualifications, telling USA Today in an interview published Friday that voters will have to answer questions about whether the Texas governor is ready to be president.

But, he said, ``I do believe that his proposals raise questions about his judgment.''

For his part, Bush said he's ``fully prepared'' to lead and that the message if he wins Tuesday will be that voters wanted a change.

``They will have looked at my qualifications and said, 'George W. is the best leader,''' he told the newspaper.

In a sign of his confidence, Bush was making a play for another traditional Democratic area, heading to New Jersey on Saturday before swinging through Florida in a bid to save the state where his brother Jeb is governor from falling to Gore.

Bush also was endorsed Thursday by two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot.

Gore tried to make hay of Bush's argument to a Missouri crowd that Democrats ``want to control Social Security like it was some kind of federal program.'' Spokeswoman Karen Hughes later said Bush misspoke and that, of course, Social Security is a federal program.

But the misstatement drew jeers from a Las Cruces, N.M. crowd of 15,000 when Gore told them about it. ``If he thinks it's not a federal program, maybe it explains (his privatization) proposal,'' Gore said to cheers. ``But listen, I know that one plus one equals two.''

Polls show the race competitive, and likely to be settled in a handful of states where neither contender has a decisive edge. Attention is centered on places like Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Both candidates are blanketing the airwaves in those states, but also giving attention to the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of delivering supports to the polls on Tuesday. They also were staying flexible and looking for places where a last-minute swing could make the difference.

Democrats claimed an edge in organization, while Republicans are cheered by surveys suggesting Republicans are more excited about Bush than Democrats are about Gore.

Michael Whouley, running turnout operations for the Democratic National Committee, said an army of foot soldiers would hit the streets this weekend.

``We know how to get out voters and run election-day operations,'' Whouley said, summing up the effort as: ``more troops, more surrogates and more firepower.''

The candidates themselves are seeking to build the energy level. Gore seeks credit for the strong economy, and argues he's best suited to keep it going.

``We are not going back. We are going forward. I am not satisfied. You ain't seen nothing yet,'' Gore said, drawing derision from Bush, who remarked that Gore has failed to deliver during nearly eight years as vice president.

``How right he is,'' said Bush. ``We haven't seen anything yet.''

Key planks of the Gore platform have been ignored, he said.

``We need to reform Social Security, but we ain't seen nothing yet,'' said Bush. ``The country wants to reform Medicare, and we ain't seen nothing yet.''