YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


On the Trail, Bush Moves to Put Out Fire From His Past

Campaign: Republican nominee seeks to contain the controversy over his 1976 drunken driving arrest. Gore attacks the governor's experience and credibility.


AMES, Iowa — As George W. Bush tried to quell controversy stemming from his 1976 drunken driving arrest, Al Gore on Friday sought to reinforce voters' questions about the governor's experience and credibility.

Vice President Gore resurrected Bush's Social Security gaffe from Thursday--when Bush mistakenly implied that Social Security was not a federal program.

"Do you want to entrust the Oval Office to somebody who doesn't even know that Social Security is a federal program?" the Democratic nominee asked supporters at Iowa State University.

For the second straight day, Gore launched a television ad questioning the Texas governor's readiness to serve as president. The newest commercial, airing only in the contested states of Pennsylvania and Florida, recounts Bush's Social Security remark and asks: "Is he ready to lead America?"

Subdued for much of the day, Bush sought to rally his crowds as usual, even as his campaign tried to contain the fallout from the arrest revelation and a Friday article on the Dallas Morning News' Web site alleging that in 1998 he had denied being arrested.

Bush alluded to the arrest while stumping in Michigan. "I've made mistakes in my life," he said. "But I'm proud to tell you, I've learned from those mistakes."

But for the most part, Bush continued to portray himself as a potential healer of Washington divisiveness.

"This country needs somebody to unite this nation, somebody to bring us together, somebody to clean house there in the nation's capital, and that's what this whole campaign's about," Bush told thousands of supporters at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.

Yet, in an indication of how the controversy may have narrowed Bush's options, at least Friday, he omitted his standard criticisms about Gore's past exaggerations. His running mate, Dick Cheney, twice Friday omitted his standard line about Bush returning "honor and integrity" to the White House.

Cheney did use the phrase in a third speech, after reporters asked campaign officials about the omission.

With national polls showing a narrow Bush lead--within the margins of sampling error--and polls in some key states favoring Gore, the stage was set for a titanic battle during the long campaign's last weekend. The Bush developments only added to the uncertainty over which way voters will go.

Even on Friday their travel schedules were verging on frantic, with Gore in Missouri, Iowa and Tennessee, and Bush making multiple stops in Michigan and West Virginia.

Gore spent Friday walking an exceedingly fine line--staying as far away as possible from the Bush controversy while egging on any doubts in voters' minds about the Texas governor's ability to run the nation.

Much of his firepower Friday was spent resurrecting Bush's Thursday remark that Washington insiders, like Gore, "want the federal government controlling the Social Security, like it's some kind of federal program."

Social Security is, of course, a federal program, and Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes later said the governor misspoke. Bush has proposed that younger workers be allowed to privately invest a portion of their Social Security taxes for retirement. He has also insisted that this can be done without cutting into the benefits to current retirees that those taxes help fund.

Gore has countered that Bush is setting young against old, and promising both generations the same pool of money--hence his gibes at Iowa State and at an earlier appearance in Kansas City, Mo.

"If Gov. Bush doesn't know that it's a federal program, maybe that explains why he thinks it's all right to take a trillion dollars out of the [Social Security] trust fund and play with it by promising it to two different groups of people," Gore said.

"I know that one plus one equals two, but one trillion, promised to two different groups of people, doesn't add up unless you use what kind of math?" Gore asked the crowd.

"Fuzzy math!" they shouted back, aping a favorite Bush insult of Gore.

The Democratic thrust was double-barreled, with vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman also contesting Bush's credentials. At a Greensburg, Pa., college campus, he accused Bush of having a "fundamental misperception of the world around us."

As much as he was criticizing Bush, Gore also tried to bolster his own credentials.

Gore Plays Up His Tennessee Roots

Gore insisted in Kansas City that he would be best equipped to maintain the nation's prosperity, and in his home state of Tennessee he implored voters to side with a native son.

"You know me, and you know that for 16 years [in Congress] I've represented this state faithfully and well, and I've worked hard," he said in Alcoa, just outside Knoxville. "Nine times, I've raised my hand and taken an oath to the Constitution, and I've never violated that oath."

Los Angeles Times Articles