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Gore, Bush Go Behind Electoral Enemy Lines

Campaign: The presidential rivals push for victories in states their parties usually don't win.


MINNEAPOLIS — George W. Bush labeled Al Gore a profligate spender Wednesday and Gore charged that Bush would bankrupt Social Security as the presidential candidates barreled toward election day in states traditionally dominated by each other's party.

The locales--Bush campaigned in Minnesota much of the day, while Gore worked Florida--demonstrated that the erratic nature of this unusually close presidential contest has continued to its final days. Both candidates hoped to spring surprises in states presumed to be in their opponent's corner when the election season began.

During stops in Minneapolis and Duluth, Bush went after a state that has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 1972, the longest streak of support for Democrats among the 50 states. Bush criticized Gore as an undisciplined liberal--the sort who have long found solace in this state.

"He's got a record . . . of support for higher spending and higher taxes," Bush declared. "And, like me, he has a plan for the surplus: He wants to spend it all and then some."

In Florida, which had gone reliably Republican for years before President Clinton's victory during his 1996 reelection campaign, Gore played to the state's substantial elderly population in the central corridor, which will likely determine which way Florida swings.

Gore said Bush's plan to allow younger workers to privately invest some of their Social Security taxes would "make Social Security bankrupt just as today's 45-year-olds are starting to look forward to their first checks."

"Instead of a system where everyone's in it together, the Bush plan would turn Social Security into a grab bag where everyone is out for himself," Gore insisted.

The day's charges and countercharges came as the presidential race returned to the areas that will probably decide it--the upper Midwest and Florida--after the candidates' last sojourns west. Bush started the day in Seattle before heading east, and Gore flew to Florida on Tuesday night after a rally in Westwood.

Bush's message in Minnesota was identical to his appeal earlier this week in California: Won't the pundits and the Democrats be surprised when we win here?

The Texas governor touted his tenure as "chief executive officer of the second-biggest state in the union," and reiterated his plan to give one-quarter of the federal budget surplus back to American taxpayers. Bush also told a boisterous crowd of several thousand supporters that he would "bring America together."

"This is my message in the last week of this campaign--just as it has been my message in the first week of the campaign," he said. "It's been my message all along. I am running to seize this moment of opportunity to accomplish some great goals for our country."

But even as he outlined his tax plan on Wednesday--lower tax rates, easing the marriage penalty, eradicating the inheritance tax--he homed in on what he characterized as Gore's "massive" proposals.

Those plans equal "three times more in new spending than Bill Clinton did . . . and more spending than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined," he said, reprising a weeks-old refrain.

"This is spending without discipline, spending without priorities and spending without an end."

Mondale served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota before he ran--unsuccessfully--against President Reagan in 1984. Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic nominee, spent his campaign being scorned as a liberal by Bush's father.

The Minneapolis crowd--several thousand in a drafty airport hangar on a rainy day--was relatively large by Bush campaign standards. Recent polls show Bush and Gore neck and neck here, as the Democrat has lost ground to Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.

From Minneapolis, Bush flew to Duluth, where he lambasted the Clinton-Gore administration for failing to work out a Medicare reform package with the Republican Congress.

"One of his favorite phrases is, 'You ain't seen nothing yet,' " Bush said of Gore. "And we agree. We haven't seen anything yet."

To the south in Florida, Gore sharpened his attacks on Bush as he said momentum was running in his favor. In Florida, polls have diverged over which candidate has the edge--but most analysts believe Bush must take the state in order to accumulate the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Florida carries 25 electoral votes.

The vice president told voters at the Kissimmee Civic Center outside Orlando that his proposals would bolster the Social Security system by providing tax incentives for private retirement savings. Social Security is no small matter in Florida, where up to 1 in 3 voters likely to cast ballots Tuesday is a senior citizen.

"My opponent talks about a commitment to today's retirees," Gore said. "But let's be clear on this: Soothing words don't pay the rent, much less buy prescription medicine.

"And even the sharpest campaign sound bite cannot bring into focus the fuzzy conclusions that flow from fuzzy math."

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