2 senators question Bush's experience

Tuesday, October 24th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Governor's aide says VP's camp getting desperate

EVERETT, Wash. – Lagging in some polls with only two weeks to go in the presidential election, Al Gore's campaign on Monday began trying to make an issue of George W. Bush's experience, or lack thereof.

Gore aides and two Democratic senators argued that less than six years as Texas governor does not qualify Mr. Bush to manage world affairs and maintain prosperity.

"There's a significant experience gap between the two candidates," said U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a supporter of Mr. Gore. "The U.S. Congress is not the Texas Legislature. It does not meet every other year."

Bush aides said voters took a different view from the three presidential debates. They suggested that the Gore campaign is getting desperate, having fallen behind Mr. Bush in public opinion polls.

"They are now trying to provide a negative view of Governor Bush as opposed to a positive view of Al Gore," aide Dan Bartlett said.

Mr. Gore is not discussing the experience issue. The campaign staged a conference call for reporters with two Democratic senators, Mr. Kerrey and Joe Biden of Delaware. They stressed the finding of a CBS/New York Times poll that nearly half of Americans regarded Mr. Bush as "ill-prepared" for the presidency.

Mr. Biden said Mr. Bush's lack of experience reveals itself in his foreign policy positions, which he described as "dysfunctional."

"He's unable to connect the dots here," Mr. Biden said. "I don't know where he comes from. I don't think he gets it."

The Democratic National Committee joined in the effort Monday, releasing a 10-minute video that features six Texans criticizing Mr. Bush on health care, education, the environment and other issues. The governor is faulted in the video for having never visited the poverty-stricken colonias near the Mexican border and for Texas' failure to provide health insurance for more children.

Mr. Bartlett said Americans had the chance to judge Mr. Bush for themselves during the debates, when polls show that he took the lead in the presidential race. And he said they appeared to be impressed.

"Americans saw Governor Bush and were reassured by his performance," Mr. Bartlett said. "He was confident in what he was saying and he was straightforward."

Mr. Bush, who lost a congressional race in 1978, did not hold public office until winning the governor's race in 1994. But the former businessman and minority owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team has described his experience in the private sector as an asset.

Aides said Mr. Gore would raise the experience issue in a positive light, stressing his own political background. He first won election to the House of Representatives in 1976, eight years before capturing a Senate seat from Tennessee.

In the meantime Monday, the vice president began a campaign project of visiting with supporters to discuss the "kitchen table issues" that separate him from Mr. Bush – such as prosperity, jobs, health care, the environment, education, equal rights and civil rights.

"Will we continue the prosperity?" Mr. Gore said in describing his effort. "Will everybody be included? Those are the questions that are front and center in this election."

The vice president will spend mornings visiting voters selected by his local campaign organizers. On Monday in Portland, Ore., Mr. Gore visited with Heather Howitt, who six years ago used a $50,000 small-business loan to set up an an $11 million herbal tea manufacturing company. Ms. Howitt agreed with Mr. Gore that Mr. Bush's proposed tax cut would threaten the nation's prosperity.

Mr. Gore later held rallies in Washington state, at the airport in Everett and at Gonzaga University in Spokane.

Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Gore may campaign at kitchen tables, but his plans come straight from Washington, D.C. He argued that the vice president's proposals for tax policy, education and health care would increase the reach of government at the expense of individuals.

"He trusts the government more than the people," Mr. Bartlett said.

The Gore campaign took comfort from a USA Today/CNN/Gallup tracking poll that showed Mr. Bush up by 2 percentage points Monday, down from 9 points a day earlier.