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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush, Gore Sprint as the Race Comes Down to the Wire

Democrats: Dashing across tossup states, vice president implores loyalists to vote. He says Tuesday's election is a choice between expansion of good economy or return to bad times.

November 06, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEARBORN, Mich. — Al Gore pledged Sunday "to lift up those who have been left behind" by America's prosperity as he set off on a final dash across the states most fiercely contested in his epic battle with George W. Bush for the presidency.

From the pulpits of black churches, and at rallies of thousands of cheering supporters, the Democratic nominee cast the election as a stark choice between expansion of a flourishing economy or a return to bad times.

At stops in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, Gore sought to spike turnout among loyal Democrats and seduce wavering or undecided voters with promises to fight pollution, protect civil rights, raise the minimum wage, take on stingy health insurers, pay down the national debt--and more.

Over and over, the vice president invoked John F. Kennedy's narrow victory over Richard Nixon in 1960 as he urged voters not to succumb to apathy on election day.

"You personally may decide what the turnout is," Gore told parishioners at the Morris Brown AME Church in North Philadelphia. "So in your heart may very well lie the answer to the course our country will take in the decision made on Tuesday."

Moments later, he waded into the pews of swaying congregants to shake their hands as a gospel choir in red-and-white robes sang "We Shall Overcome."

While he journeyed across the nation, Gore's headquarters in Nashville was abuzz with preparations for what campaign manager Donna Brazile described as the biggest get-out-the-vote drive in Democratic Party history. Tens of thousands of union members and other Gore supporters will deluge voters with phone calls and house visits to lure them to the polls Tuesday.

"This is one of those elections that you're going to tell your grandkids about," Gore hollered to 1,000 people at a park rally outside Philadelphia's majestic Memorial Hall.

"You'll look back, and you'll tell 'em, 'Back at the beginning of the 21st century, we had an election that was so close, so hard fought, that I personally made the difference by getting the votes to the polls. And we won!' "

Candidates Target Same Precise Area

With the race closer than any in decades, turnout is crucial for both sides. And it's most important in the tossup states where Gore and Bush appeared just hours apart over the campaign's final weekend.

In their struggle for the 270 electoral votes needed to win, the campaigns have targeted swing areas of swing states so precisely that Gore stopped Sunday in the same Detroit suburb of Dearborn that Bush visited on Saturday.

And here, as at every other stop, Gore told people their state was the one that could push him over the top.

"Michigan is in the driver's seat," he shouted to some 3,000 supporters at a University of Michigan rally.

Gore ran into a few bumps in his speech here. He referred twice to the singer Bruce Hornsby, who performed at the rally, as "Roger Hornsby." (Rogers Hornsby was a Hall of Fame baseball player who retired in 1937).

"Bruce!" Gore's wife, Tipper, called out after the second time.

"Bruce," Gore responded. "I know better than that."

Gore was also interrupted when a person in the crowd was stricken with a medical problem. Gore's son-in-law, physician Drew Schiff, was dispatched to help the ailing supporter.

More than anything, Gore's attention Sunday turned to whipping up enthusiasm among the Democratic Party's core constituents, most notably African Americans.

At black churches in Philadelphia, he pounded Bush for opposing affirmative action and refusing to take a stand against flying the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina Statehouse.

And in a direct challenge to what Bush trumpets as a major achievement as governor of Texas, Gore charged that the "educational gap between blacks and whites has been growing, not narrowing" in his home state.

Gore Rips Bush on Hate Crime Bill

Gore also went after Bush for opposing a Texas hate crime bill that was spurred by the gruesome 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas.

Minutes before Gore took the stage at the Philadelphia rally, Byrd's sister Louvon Harris told the waiting crowd that his killers "spray-painted him black, chained him to a truck, dragged him three miles."

The frenzied waving of green and silver pompons paused.

"His head came off, his arms. [They] dismembered his whole body," she said. "We have a governor of Texas who doesn't think that's a hate crime."

The crowd groaned.

"My question to him is, if that isn't hate, what is hate to George Bush? He had an opportunity to do something for our family. He did nothing."

Harris was the latest in a parade of Gore surrogates who hammered Bush much harder than the candidate himself as they warmed up crowds at his weekend rallies. But every surrogate has hewed closely to Gore's strategically chosen attacks, such as the one in a television ad suggesting that Bush is unfit for the presidency.

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