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CAMPAIGN 2000

Cheney, Powell Make Last Pitch to O.C.

Rally: At the fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, 5,000 GOP partisans hear the vice presidential candidate and ex-general denounce Gore and plead for voter turnout.

November 06, 2000|JEAN O. PASCO and MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Wanda Pitts was having a tough time finding the right words to explain why she'd accompanied her daughter Sunday to their first-ever political event, a campaign rally with Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney and retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell.

"It was . . ." Pitts of Sacramento began.

"Fabulous," gushed daughter Gail Smead of Huntington Beach.

"Now I know why we need him," Pitts said of GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush. "You get so excited and so there."

Pitts and Smead joined 5,000 others at the Orange County Fairgrounds to experience what organizers hope happens throughout California in the next two days--an energizing of the GOP base as the campaign shifts from message to turnout.

The Costa Mesa crowd needed no prompting, breaking into spontaneous chants of "No more Gore" and bursting into applause when surf band Jan and Dean added a partisan twist to some Beach Boy lyrics, about Newport girls "and the way they vote."

It was an easy task for Cheney and Powell to pump the friends-and-neighbors vote. Though recent presidential polls show California voters favoring Vice President Al Gore by seven percentage points, Republicans believe they are within striking distance. The race nationally remains too close to call.

Striding onto the fairgrounds stage to the sounds of rock band Van Halen, Cheney accused Gore and President Clinton of undermining U.S. military readiness, expanding a bloated federal government and scaring senior citizens into believing that Bush's proposals would undermine Social Security.

"As we get down to the closing days of the campaign, we've seen a lot of negative stuff flying around out there," he said. "I think, frankly, all of us are getting a little tired of the way the Clinton-Gore routine works."

Cheney, defense secretary under Bush's father, whipped through several examples of dwindling resources for branches of the military. One branch cannibalizes grounded aircraft for spare parts; another is unable to staff a reduced number of ships, he said.

"If you ask Al Gore, he says everything's fine," Cheney said, prompting someone in the crowd to yell back, "He's a liar."

Cheney also urged support for Bush's plans to eliminate the "death tax" and the tax penalty for some married couples, as well as to return one-quarter of the projected federal budget deficit to taxpayers.

Powell, who was introduced as "the most popular man in America," said the Republican ticket would "set an example of principle and character" in the White House. "[Bush] is ready and he is counting on you to get him there," Powell told the crowd. Powell introduced Cheney.

Joining them onstage were 50 local GOP incumbents, candidates, activists and fund-raisers. Local party Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes introduced Assembly nominees Tom Harman and Lynn Daucher--two candidates who were the subject of an unsuccessful state party-backed lawsuit to throw out their victories in the March open primary after they defeated conservative challengers.

The excitement surged through the crowd, a distinct change from 1996, when GOP nominee Bob Dole badly trailed in the final weekend of campaigning and dispirited activists were begging for help on election day.

"People are ready for a win here," said GOP activist Matt Harper of Huntington Beach. "They see an opportunity to win California, and that wasn't even considered at the beginning of the campaign."

"This is exactly what we need in California," said Republican consultant Adam Probolsky. "This gets the volunteers energized and excited, and they get to see the man they're voting for."

Not that there haven't been other opportunities this year. Orange County's high level of GOP registration is counted on to deliver wide margins to counterbalance Democratic majorities elsewhere in the state. Bush made Orange County appearances in May and September, while his nephew George P. Bush visited Santa Ana in July.

Gore has been scarcer as Democrats shifted resources and candidate appearances to other states. Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman visited Orange County in August.

Sunday's rally drew Bill Frenzel, who said it was no comparison to a preelection Orange County campaign appearance in 1996 by Dole.

"I like Dole, but he didn't have quite the punch that Bush does," he said.

Martha Groves of Costa Mesa, her husband, Charles, and their son, David of San Clemente, car-pooled to the rally after hearing about it Saturday through friends.

"I'm retired and on Social Security, and [Bush] doesn't scare me at all," Martha Groves said.

"We're going to work the polls and call friends and get people out to vote," David Groves said. "I'm very motivated."

Cheney and Powell began the day in another solidly Republican area--northern San Diego County, where Cheney's message of military readiness was a fit both for the former defense secretary and the military base-rich region.

The two attended morning services at the San Dieguito United Methodist Church in Encinitas, followed by a rally at the nearby Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Cheney will campaign today in Nevada, Washington and Oregon before heading to a rally in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he will vote Tuesday morning.

"The last thing I want to do here today is to ask you for your vote," Cheney said at the conclusion of his 30-minute speech in Costa Mesa. "I don't want anyone leaving here saying, 'He didn't ask for our vote.'

"Well, I'm asking. We need your vote," he said, leaving the stage to shake hands and sign autographs to the pulsating strains of Ricky Martin singing, "Do you really want it? Here we go. . . ."

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