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CAMPAIGN 2000: ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE

Candidates Stress Leadership, Direction Along a Busy Trail

Gore: At a home-state prayer breakfast, he exhorts followers to 'take your souls to the polls.'

November 05, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PITTSBURGH — Firing his rhetoric with religious fervor, Vice President Al Gore swept through three fiercely contested states Saturday, practically ordering his most reliable supporters to "take your souls to the polls" on election day.

From a Memphis, Tenn., prayer breakfast just after dawn with 1,200 religious leaders--most of them African American--to the hills and hollows of West Virginia's coal country and then to a rally among union workers in this city where hard hats and steel once reigned, the vice president delivered a blunt message:

"Some people are tired of prosperity. They look back to a period eight years ago and they say we were better off then than we are now. I don't agree. They recommend we go back to the kinds of policies we had then and get rid of the ones we have now. I don't agree."

In Huntington, W.V.--with the red, blue and orange stripes of a hot-air balloon lending a touch of color to a gray day, and the white and blue fuselage of Air Force Two offering a dramatic backdrop--the Democratic nominee for president told several thousand people at an airport rally: "We have created good jobs in America, but still there are people who do not have them. We have increased family wealth in America, but there are too many families that are still suffering."

Gore searched for new ways to portray his fight against Republican rival George W. Bush's proposal to allow younger workers to privately invest some of their Social Security taxes. Gore has been hammering Bush on the subject for weeks, and particularly as Tuesday's election nears.

There is, Gore said Saturday, "a preference on the other side for a dog-eat-dog, every-person-for-himself mentality."

"That works fine for the very wealthy but does not work very well for those who are struggling to get by," he said.

Gore's pace--hitting three states in addition to a detour to his son's football game in suburban Washington--was not unusual three days before a presidential election. But the itinerary--in his home state of Tennessee and in historically Democratic West Virginia, if not the traditional battleground of Pennsylvania--testified to the nip-and-tuck competition with Bush.

West Virginia, for example, offers only five of the 270 electoral votes needed to win--in any normal election year, not enough to matter a mere three days out. There are 23 electoral votes in Pennsylvania; 11 in Tennessee.

Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, greeted supporters Saturday in Orlando, Fla., before heading to Arkansas for a late-night rally and then on to New Mexico.

Gore spent the day emphasizing the need for Democratic turnout, employing one of his favorite campaign-closing riffs from the successful 1992 presidential race. In it, he offered his West Virginia audience two possible outcomes for next week: "You wake up early on Wednesday morning with a headache and look out the window and there's a cold, driving rain with sleet and hail mixed into it rapping on your window. The clouds have blackened out the dawn and you get out of bed slowly and painfully and walk toward the door. . . . The newspaper is soaked through and through and stuck to the front stoop. And you peel it off and hold it up to the light in the gloomy darkness, and through that light you barely make out a headline that says, 'Bush Wins.' "

His audience booed lustily. Or, he continued, there is another alternative: "Now imagine that on Wednesday morning just before you awaken a golden shaft of sunlight is on your eyelids and you awaken refreshed and feeling wonderful. The fresh aroma of fresh brewed coffee wafts in from the kitchen. . . . You leap out of bed and dance your way to the front door. You hear birds chirping on the front porch. The sunlight now is making your face feel warm.

"You reach down and pick up the newspaper," he said, his voice rising to a full shout and his audience cheering back, "and it says, 'Gore-Lieberman Win. West Virginia Wins.'

"Let's do it!" he cried.

During his remarks to the ministers--all with the goal of assuring supporters will be voters Tuesday--he also sprinkled his words with biblical context. ("All praise be to the Lord. That's all praise be to the Lord.")

He evoked the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., with the help of the slain civil rights leader's son and namesake, who made a last-minute journey to Memphis to introduce Gore.

The vice president, citing the progress that has been made since the tension and anger of the summer of 1968, after King was assassinated April 4 in Memphis, said: "We have left Egypt, but we have not arrived in Canaan. We have a long way to go.

"Martin's father said, 'Now, now, now is the time.' "

With the fire of a preacher from his Baptist tradition, Gore called out: "I believe that we are getting warmer. . . . I feel it coming. I feel the determination.

"America has a rendezvous with redemption."

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