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Candidates Court Michigan Voters

Politics: Bush pushes a comp time proposal to help working parents, while Gore takes aim at the Republican's tax-cut plan.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush swept through opposite corners of this hotly contested state Thursday, seeking to focus voters on their contrasting visions for the nation.

Picking up where he left off in the first presidential debate Tuesday in Boston, Gore told a crowd of 4,000 in this conservative and church-heavy city that his core difference with Bush centers on how best to extend the fruits of the nation's economic boom to Americans who are still struggling.

On the other side of the state, Republican Bush sought to seize some populist ground from the Democratic vice president by calling for reforms in federal laws that would allow workers to receive comp time instead of overtime as a "tool for parents" to spend more time with their children.

Labor unions and Democrats have battled fiercely against similar measures as an erosion of worker protections, fearing employers would use such rules to avoid paying overtime. Yet Bush used the issue in union-heavy Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb in southeast Michigan, to cast himself as a champion of working parents, particularly women, who polls show strongly favor Gore.

With 18 electoral votes and a demographically diverse population, Michigan ranks high on the quadrennial list of "must-stop" states for presidential and vice presidential candidates. This year, the state has become even more critical with national polls showing the two major party candidates about even, and Gore leading in the all-important electoral votes.

Speaking before a sprawling crowd at Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids, in the southwest corner of the state, Gore told voters the choice they face Nov. 7 is how to continue the "extraordinary prosperity" of the last eight years "and make sure it benefits not just a few but all our families."

Echoing themes from Tuesday's debate, Gore took aim at Bush's tax proposals--which Gore contends will benefit only the wealthy--and said: "I will cut taxes for middle class families. . . . You're the ones who need the tax cuts."

Gore told the crowd that targeted tax cuts should seek to help working families pay for child care.

"I am proposing child care tax credits . . . for all the families in this country, middle class families, so you can get the quality child care that your children need. And after-school care," Gore said. "The choices that lie before us are very simple and very clear. We can continue the prosperity, have middle-class tax cuts, invest in education, health care, clean up the environment, retirement security.

"Or the other side's proposal, which gives the alternative choice: blow the surplus on a giant tax cut, loaded for the wealthy, and starve the priorities that are in most danger."

Bush rejected Gore's contentions during an evening rally in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa, airplane hangar.

"[Gore] wants to throw numbers out to try to confuse the American people," the Texas governor said, as the crowd of several hundred cheered. "He wants to say that the wealthy get all the benefits, and we don't have money for programs. That's simply not the truth. That's not the reality. That's not the way it is. And I'm not going to let him get away with it.'

Earlier, in an interview with local radio station WMMT, Gore rebuffed complaints that he has exaggerated his personal history. Most recently, Gore claimed in Tuesday's debate to have made a trip to Texas with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt that he later acknowledged didn't happen.

Bush hasn't been pure of speech, either, Gore said. In Tuesday's debate Bush claimed that Gore has outspent him in the campaign.

"The numbers show that he has spent twice as much as I have, but I don't seize on that as evidence of some character flaw," Gore said. "He made a mistake, and I'm not going to attack him personally."

After the lunchtime rally, Gore headed for Orlando, Fla., where he planned to watch the debate between his running mate Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Dick Cheney.

Bush covered a lot of ground Thursday too. On a swing through Michigan and Wisconsin, another closely contested state, Bush rolled out a fresh package of proposals dubbed "Putting Parents Back in Charge."

Specific proposals ranged from tougher enforcement of obscenity laws to an expansion of the television ratings system.

But most significant was Bush's proposed change in overtime law.

"If one of the things you want to do in society is to encourage moms and dads to be able to spend more time with their children--we ought to have a reasonable, common-sense change in the law," he told parents and teachers at Royal Oak's Helen Keller Middle School.

Under Bush's proposal, workers could opt to receive 90 minutes of compensatory time for every hour of overtime worked.

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