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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Ticket in Florida for Senior, Jewish Vote

Democrats: Nominees push their plan to help with long-term health care costs. Many at a retirement community give Lieberman an emotional welcome.

August 24, 2000|MATEA GOLD and JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TAMARAC, Fla. — Democrats Al Gore and Joseph I. Lieberman appealed to Florida's influential senior and Jewish voters Wednesday by joining forces to pitch their plan for assisting those with long-term care costs.

Lieberman told the residents of the Kings Point Community Center near Ft. Lauderdale that Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's tax cut plan doesn't add up. Gore followed with a vow that his plan for middle-class tax cuts will help people caring for sick and elderly family members.

Addressing a sea of white-haired listeners who waved Gore-Lieberman signs, the vice president reiterated his plan to provide a $3,000 tax credit for families bearing the brunt of long-term care costs.

"It's not so much to ask for these Americans who are putting in 24-hour days, seven days a week, who are helping because of the fullness of love in their hearts, and who are making sacrifices that are hard to imagine," said Gore, the Democratic nominee for president, as the crowd cheered.

Wednesday's event was an attempt by the Democrats to make Florida--with its coveted 25 electoral votes--into a competitive state in the race against Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney. The Republican ticket leads in state polls and the Florida governor, Jeb Bush, is the brother of the GOP presidential nominee.

But the visit by Gore and Lieberman, the first Jew nominated to a major party ticket, suggests Democrats sense an opportunity. Their appearance was an effort to energize two of Florida's key voting blocs: senior citizens and Jews.

Jews represent only 3% of the electorate nationally, but 6% in Florida, about the same as the state's Cuban population. About 19% of the state's population is 65 or older, one of the highest proportions of seniors in the nation.

Broward County, where the two campaigned Wednesday, is an overwhelmingly Democratic, Jewish senior enclave. Florida Democratic leaders say that by starting on friendly turf, the campaign can motivate these voters to get others to the polls.

"The key is that you want to make sure you have energized your base," said Bob Poe, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party. He referred to the seniors as "condo commandos" who will round up every voter they can.

Standing on a stage festooned with red, white and blue balloons and a sign reading "Fighting for Families," Gore and Lieberman basked in a rock-star treatment. They were welcomed by the Kings Point Jazz Band and Choral Ensemble, which cheerfully churned out creaky renditions of both the Tennessee tune "Rocky Top" and the Hebrew song "Hava Nagila."

During his address, Lieberman peppered his speech with Yiddish, joking that he and Gore felt like nuchshleppers, or hangers-on, because both their wives were mentioned before they were introduced. He said the gathering of Jewish grandparents made him feel like "I'm in a room full of family members."

"Where else would the mayor come up to me and say shalom aleichem?" he joked, using the Hebrew term for "Peace be with you."

Gore smiled and nodded through his running mate's schtick, at times looking a little lost at the Yiddish back-and-forth. But he, too, jumped into the spirit, shouting back "mazel tov," or congratulations, when someone in the audience yelled it at him.

"I can't tell you how important Florida is," Lieberman told the seniors. "I honestly believe that Al Gore and I are going to win Florida and going to win the election."

Florida voted Republican in each of the presidential contests since 1976 before it supported the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1996. This year, it is one of the 17 states where the Republican and Democratic tickets are both broadcasting television commercials.

Gore plans to stump here again in Tallahassee on Monday. Both of the candidates' wives also plan to visit Florida. "We'll be spending a great deal of time here," said Chris Lehane, Gore's spokesman. "It's a place where we think we can do awfully well."

At the retirement community, the candidates basked in the adoration of residents, many who reserved a particularly emotional welcome for Lieberman. As he greeted the crowd, many kissed him and patted his cheek, while others chanted "Joe! Joe! Joe!"

Lori Glasser, 53, who said she put off starting a company to recruit volunteers to work for the ticket in Broward County, told Lieberman, "You have no idea what we're going to do for you."

Another woman grabbed his hand and kissed it, leaving a bright red lip-shaped mark as she said: "It's like kissing the Torah, kissing you!"

During their pitch to the friendly crowd, the two Democrats maintained the populist tone that Gore embraced earlier in the summer.

Lieberman noted that Bush said this week that he needs to better explain his tax cut plan. "The problem isn't explaining the tax cut plan," the Connecticut senator said. "The problem is the plan itself. The problem is it benefits the wealthy, not the hard-working families of America."

The Bush campaign fired back, saying that 50 million taxpayers would not get a tax cut under Gore's plan.

"His plan denies tax relief to more than half of all taxpayers," said Dan Bartlett, a Bush spokesman. "Gov. Bush believes that every taxpayer who contributes to the current surplus, particularly those in the lower tax bracket, deserves tax relief."

Bartlett also criticized Gore's pledge to help those struggling with the costs of long-term care, saying that the Clinton administration has failed to make it more affordable, despite promises to do so.

In the evening, Gore and Lieberman raised $500,000 at a fund-raiser at the Parkland home of Mitchell Berger, an attorney.

*

Times staff writer Dana Calvo contributed to this story.

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