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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush, McCain Hit the Trail in Search of Swing Voters in California Tour

GOP: Arizona senator heaps praise on Republican nominee in trip through central part of state, saying his messages of inclusion and diversity strike right chord.

August 11, 2000|BONNIE HARRIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SALINAS — Brushing off their bitter Republican primary contest as "family squabbles," GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona hit the campaign trail together Thursday, gunning for the support of swing voters in Central California.

McCain, who delivered a ringing endorsement of Bush at last week's Republican National Convention, followed up during a joint appearance at the John Steinbeck Museum in Salinas by praising the way the Texas governor has been running his presidential campaign.

McCain said Bush's messages of inclusion and diversity have "resonated well with the American people," and he pledged to do whatever he could to help the GOP ticket win the White House.

Calling Bush "by far the best candidate" for president, McCain said: "This good and decent man . . . is going to lead this nation, and I'm proud to be part of this crusade."

Although political analysts give presumed Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore a significant edge in California, Bush has insisted he will continue to campaign aggressively in the state. McCain said Thursday, "California is clearly in play." The pair spent the day campaigning by train, with other stops in Lodi, Stockton and Sacramento.

A strong showing in Central California is crucial to any hopes Bush has of carrying the state.

In most elections, Los Angeles County and the Bay Area vote heavily Democratic, while Republicans count on large margins in Orange and San Diego counties and the rural stretches of Northern California.

That leaves California's broad midsection, the area stretching from Bakersfield to Sacramento, as the state's most hard-fought political territory.

McCain, who ran strongly among swing voters in several GOP primaries, said his aim in campaigning with Bush is to "ask independents to look at him. I hope I have the credibility with them so they will examine his campaign."

Bush, who stumped on his own Wednesday in Oxnard, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, said Thursday, "It's awfully helpful to have John McCain by my side."

As he has in the past, Bush said he is "a better candidate as a result of John entering the race."

The two men downplayed the heated disagreements they had during the primary season, including their disputes over McCain's call for sweeping campaign finance reform and Bush's push for large tax cuts.

"Primaries are family squabbles," Bush said. "John and I were friends before and we're friends now."

McCain said he "felt better" about Bush's position on both issues and dismissed any past arguments as a byproduct of the primary process.

"When you're in a tough primary, a lot of things are said," McCain told reporters before boarding the train to Lodi. "The bottom line is, Gov. Bush and I are in agreement on the themes that are common to our party."

Pressed further, McCain acknowledged that he and Bush still have disagreements on the size of Bush's proposed tax cuts and the specifics of campaign finance reform. But he said: "To me, that's healthy. We're moving forward, and what I'm hoping I can do now is ask the independent and swing voters who supported me to take a look at Gov. Bush and his message, because I believe in both."

The two are to continue campaigning together today and Saturday in Oregon and Washington, states known for the independence of their voters.

McCain was accompanying Bush to two fund-raisers: one in Stockton on Thursday and another in a Seattle suburb tonight.

McCain has refused to attend fund-raisers that generate so-called soft money, the unlimited donations to the political parties from unions, corporations and individuals that he has sought to ban. He said the fund-raisers he's attending with Bush involve "hard money"--contributions limited to $1,000 a person.

Bush and McCain were met warmly by several thousand supporters who were at the Salinas Amtrak station to see them off. McCain drew roars of laughter by poking fun at himself as yet another "guy from Arizona" who ran--unsuccessfully--for president.

"Barry Goldwater of Arizona ran for president," McCain said. "Mo Udall of Arizona ran for president. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona ran for president. And, as you know, I ran for president. Arizona may be the only state in America where mothers don't tell their children they can grow up to be president."

Dick Cheney, Bush's newly anointed running mate, campaigned Thursday at an elementary school outside Columbus, Ohio, continuing a three-day swing through battleground states in the Midwest. Today Cheney and his wife, Lynne, plan to campaign in Michigan and Illinois.

At the school, Cheney promoted Bush's proposal for government-funded vouchers, which would enable parents to help pay private-school tuition for their children. "I happen to be a big believer in competition," he said.

Cheney's visit prompted an attack by the Gore campaign, which criticized him for voting against the Head Start preschool program when he was a Wyoming congressman in the 1980s.

Cheney brushed off the attack by citing favorable comments that Gore, then a U.S. senator from Tennessee, and other Democrats had made about him when he was later named Defense secretary.

"I think they have suddenly found reasons to criticize me, obviously because Gov. Bush selected me to be his running mate," Cheney said.

*

Times staff writers Mark Z. Barabak, Michael Finnegan and Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this story.

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