Gore and Bush entourages do poltical two-step in pivotal PA

Friday, September 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CARBONDALE, Pa. – If this is Thursday, it must be Pennsylvania – again.

For the third time this week, Al Gore is campaigning in the Keystone State, by all accounts a real battleground in this run for the White House.

Sunday, the Democratic vice president was in Philadelphia. Monday, in Pittsburgh. And Thursday, in this small town tucked in the hills northeast of Scranton.

His Republican rival, George W. Bush, was in Scranton on Wednesday and back in Pittsburgh on Thursday.

In the frenetic drive for votes, these two candidates often shadow each other, sometimes nearly colliding. In Scranton this week, the Clarion Hotel just off the interstate was barely cleared of the Bush press corps when three busloads of reporters and photographers arrived with Mr. Gore.

Pennsylvania, with its 23 electoral votes, is a prize among a handful of crucial states. Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri are among the others in the Midwest. And Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, could be pivotal in the South.

"These are the states where the election is likely to be won," said Mr. Gore's press secretary, Chris Lehane.

Mr. Bush had considered Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as a running mate. And had the two governors been the Republican ticket, some Democratic strategists worried that Pennsylvania – maybe even Ohio – would have quickly leaned Republican.

But Mr. Bush, in part concerned about Mr. Ridge's support of abortion rights, chose Dick Cheney, the former defense secretary and Wyoming congressman. And now Pennsylvania is really up for grabs, if not leaning Democratic.

Reflecting Mr. Gore's surge nationally since the Democratic National Convention three weeks ago, Mr. Gore had a double-digit lead last week in the Pulse of Pennsylvania Poll.

In a telephone survey Aug. 27-29 of 890 likely voters, Mr. Gore was at 51 percent and Mr. Bush at 37 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

There was clearly a new spring in the vice president's step Thursday as he picked up the endorsement of the Teamsters union. And there is a new confidence among his staff, which has endured more than a few shake-ups in the last year. But publicly, at least, there are no early signs of overconfidence.

The latest polls showing new Gore strength are "essentially meaningless until you get to Election Day," Mr. Lehane said. "It's a close, hard-fought election."

Or as Mr. Gore put it, when reporters asked whether Mr. Bush is now, as he says, the underdog: "I don't pay much attention to the polls."

But he does, keeping up not only with the national trends but also with state-by-state shifts.

Pennsylvania is particularly important, Mr. Lehane said, because of its large number of senior citizens interested in Social Security, Medicare and prescription drug benefits.

"It also benefits tremendously from the new economy," he said.

On Thursday, Mr. Gore highlighted his call for the creation of 10 million high-skilled, high-tech jobs during a visit to Gentex Corp., an old-line Pennsylvania firm that a century ago was one of the nation's leading manufacturers of silk. Now, it has retooled to make state-of-the-art fire suits and other protective equipment for the military and civilian agencies.

"Compare and contrast," Mr. Gore told Gentex workers.

His economic plan, outlined in the new book, Prosperity for America's Families, is chock-full of details, he said. And he challenged Mr. Bush to be just as specific.

"You can see all of our specifics and judge for yourself," Mr. Gore said.

In Carbondale, Gentex workers Bill Murphy and Tom Carden have been watching for some time now and are settling on Mr. Gore.

"He seems to have a better plan than Bush," Mr. Murphy said, singling out Mr. Gore's proposal for prescription drug benefits under Medicare. "You can go from here to Canada and get the prescriptions at half the price," he said.

Mr. Carden said he was leaning toward Mr. Gore because he found him "more people-oriented."