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Campaign 2000

Bush, Gore Campaigns Get Southern Exposure

March 13, 2000|MARIA L. La GANGA and ERIC SLATER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

PLANT CITY, Fla. — George W. Bush and Al Gore took potshots at each other as they campaigned across the South on Sunday, with Gore suggesting Bush lacks the experience needed to be president and Bush declaring that Gore will "say anything to get elected."

The primary season may technically still be alive with contests in six Southern states scheduled for Tuesday, but both men turned their sights toward November--and each other--as they campaigned from Texas to Tennessee to Florida.

Texas Gov. Bush was asked about published reports that Gore plans to focus on campaign finance reform in the general election--an issue that Sen. John McCain of Arizona made his rallying cry before dropping out of the Republican presidential race Thursday.

"I just find it amazing that Vice President Gore talks about campaign funding reform about two weeks after his close friend was indicted, convicted," Bush said. "I think the fellow must think America has been asleep or something during the last seven years of this administration. We remember."

Bush was referring to the conviction of Maria Hsia, a Los Angeles immigration consultant, on five felony counts stemming from her role in a Buddhist temple fund-raising event attended by Gore in April 1996. Hsia was convicted of filing false reports with federal election officials. The trial produced no evidence of wrongdoing or knowledge of the scheme by the vice president.

Gore, campaigning in Bush's home state of Texas, questioned Bush's qualifications more than once. "George W. Bush's proposal for a $2.1-trillion risky tax scheme . . . raises a serious question: Does Gov. Bush have the experience to be president? Because a proposition like that makes you wonder."

Bush has proposed $483 billion in across-the-board tax cuts over five years, a program outside analysts estimate would reach $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Gore called it a risky scheme a dozen times in 20 minutes.

Gore bashed Bush again in an interview with Associated Press: "Does Gov. Bush have the kind of decision-making tests under his belt to be president? . . . The experience? . . . The sense of perspective?"

Bush shot back: "The vice president obviously believes that all wisdom and all knowledge emanates out of Washington. I don't think that. I think that all wisdom and all knowledge emanates from the people. And I look forward to freeing people to make decisions in their health care and their schools."

Although he was willing to point out Gore's alleged fund-raising lapses, Bush balked when asked if he thinks Gore is dishonest.

"That's up to the people to make that determination," Bush said. "I think that I'm learning more and more about what the truth is. I think he'll say anything to get elected."

While campaigning in Tennessee, which Gore represented in Congress, Bush picked up the endorsement of Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, a former McCain supporter. Bush told the cheering crowd that he understood that Gore was campaigning in his home state Sunday while he was in Tennessee. "I wanted to go to his home and campaign today as well," Bush said, "but I couldn't get reservations to Washington, D.C."

Bush didn't mention McCain by name but said Thompson's presence is "indicative that there is far more that we agree on than what divides us. Once the primaries are over, it's important to understand that the best reform that we can have is to end the Clinton-Gore era in Washington D.C."

Bush raised a new campaign topic Sunday: gas prices. He blamed rising prices on what he said was the Clinton administration's failure to persuade oil producing nations to raise output. Bush said he may join calls for lifting a 4.3-cent-per-gallon federal gas tax hike imposed in 1993.

Before visiting Tennessee, Bush was joined by his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the Florida Strawberry Festival outside Tampa.

Bush declined to sit in the strawberry-shaped throne flanked by pictures of former President George Bush's visit eight years earlier. "I'm smarter than that," he cracked.

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