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California and the West

Gore Drawing Early GOP Fire on Visit to State

Politics: Salvos suggest independent groups will play larger role in primary season, and that vice president faces challenge to claim as high-tech's candidate.

April 05, 1999|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

WASHINGTON — It's not exactly the welcome wagon.

As Vice President Al Gore arrives in Los Angeles today for a two-day California visit, two distinct Republican groups are trying to rain on his bandwagon.

The Republican Leadership Council, a centrist Washington-based group, is launching a two-day television advertising buy in San Francisco and San Jose--which Gore will visit Tuesday--poking fun at his recent claim that he took "the initiative in creating the Internet."

Meanwhile, a group of Silicon Valley Republicans--aiming to dispel the impression that Gore has locked up the high-tech community for his presidential campaign in 2000--has purchased a full-page ad in today's San Jose Mercury News urging Texas Gov. George W. Bush to seek the presidency.

Together, these Republican ads underscore two intriguing subplots already emerging in the competition to succeed President Clinton.

One is a growing interest by independent groups in purchasing ads--earlier than ever before--to shape the presidential campaign. The other is an increasingly spirited competition for the allegiance of the high-technology entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley--a group that until recently had been famously averse to politics.

Gore aides portrayed the twin GOP initiatives as a sign of anxiety among Republicans about his potential appeal in California. "What it reflects is just how concerned Republicans are about how well Al Gore's views and issues match up with California's issues: high technology, education reform and the environment," said Chris Lehane, the vice president's spokesman.

While dodging these volleys from Republicans, Gore will also be flexing political muscle among Democrats on the trip. Gore is slated to receive endorsements from prominent Latino Democrats in Los Angeles today, and he expects to take home nearly $1 million in contributions for his 2000 campaign from fund-raisers hosted by industry leaders in Hollywood and Silicon Valley tonight and Tuesday.

In between, he'll appear in Los Angeles with Gov. Gray Davis. Gore is scheduled to announce that Washington has approved a waiver sought by Davis to allow California school districts to use an estimated $129 million in federal funds in the next academic year to reduce the size of 10th-grade math and language arts classes.

The money was earmarked in legislation passed by Congress last year to reduce class size in grades 1 through 3. But because most districts in California already have reduced class size in those grades, officials said, a federal waiver was necessary to allow school districts to spend the funds in other ways. The Los Angeles Unified School District is to receive $26.3 million, they said.

The money and institutional party support that Gore will mobilize on his trip highlight the benefits of his position as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. The fact that he's being targeted in attack ads so early in the process measures the downside.

In sarcastic tones, the RLC ad lampoons Gore not only for his recent remarks about the Internet, but for his contention that his father--the late former Sen. Albert Gore Sr.--taught him how to work on a farm. It also chides his claim that under Clinton he has taken the lead in working "to reinvent the federal government."

"What he's trying to do is reinvent himself," said Mark Miller, the RLC's executive director. "And we want to put out the truth. If he wants to make light of his gaffes we will go right along and play that game with him until he offers true answers about his own record."

Lehane disputed all the complaints in the ad. Gore, he said, did work summers on his family's farm in Tennessee through high school and has played the central role in Clinton's initiative to streamline and "reinvent" the federal government.

And although the Internet was created long before Gore entered public life, Gore's office has distributed comments from a variety of high-tech leaders insisting that the vice president helped it become ubiquitous through his relentless advocacy of an "information superhighway" in Congress.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the RLC ad is that it's appearing this far in advance of the next election. It follows closely behind television advertisements aired by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League against Bush and former American Red Cross President Elizabeth Hanford Dole in Iowa, New Hampshire and California.

This early activity departs from the pattern that prevailed as recently as 1996, when independent political groups spent little to influence the presidential primaries, and focused most of their spending on the general election. In launching its ads so early, Miller said the RLC was inspired partly by the massive Democratic National Committee television advertising campaign that Clinton launched (at the urging of his strategist, Dick Morris) to define Bob Dole in 1995--long before he won the Republican presidential nomination.

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