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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Attacks on Rival's Turf; Gore Pushes College Plan

Politics: The Texas governor says he'll win the home state of the vice president, who counters with a Florida swing.

October 11, 2000|MARIA L. La GANGA and JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. — George W. Bush taunted Al Gore in the vice president's home state of Tennessee on Tuesday as Gore touted his plan to ease college tuition costs at a campaign stop in Florida.

On the eve of their second high-stakes debate tonight in North Carolina, Bush lit into his Democratic rival at a rally of several thousand cheering supporters here in eastern Tennessee.

"My opponent is of Washington, for Washington and by Washington," the Texas governor said. "He thinks all knowledge and all wisdom exists in Washington, D.C."

Needling Gore, a former Tennessee congressman and senator, Bush said he would win the state even "They tell me Tennessee is all wrapped up," said Bush, who appeared on stage with country music star Hank Williams Jr. "After all, the man used to live here. He used to call this state home. But it seems like it was so long in the distant past, he forgot to trust the people of Tennessee. He forgot what it's like to be out here with the hard-working people."

Gore struck a less combative tone as he campaigned at Manatee Community College in Bradenton, Fla. The vice president, who met with several hundred students, promoted his plan to grant middle-income families tax deductions for up to $10,000 in college tuition.

An English teacher told Gore that students who watched the first Bush-Gore debate last week wanted to know if he'll attack Bush in the second one "on some of the mistakes he makes."

"I like the civil stuff," Gore responded.

The event gave Gore the opportunity to appear before local television cameras in the biggest state that seems up for grabs in the Nov. 7 election.

With 25 electoral votes at stake, Bush and the Republican Party have spent $8.2 million on television ads in Florida since the Democratic National Convention in mid-August, while the Gore campaign has spent $3 million, said senior Gore advisor Tad Devine.

Gore's most recent ad attacks Bush on the environment, asking viewers to imagine his "Texas record in Florida's Everglades."

In a move to attract Florida's large population of retirees, Gore's campaign tried Tuesday to undercut Bush's plan to allow Americans to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market. In a conference call that the campaign set up with reporters, Boston College economist Alicia Munnell, a former advisor to President Clinton, warned that Bush's plan would force the government to cut benefits to future retirees or reach deep into the budget surplus.

Gore's political aides and the head of the state Democratic Party were all but gloating over the closeness of the race in Florida, where Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

Florida is "the linchpin state" for Bush, and he "can't win without it," said state Democratic Chairman Bob Poe.

A key state for Gore is California, and two polls released Tuesday reaffirmed his solid lead over Bush in the state. A Field Institute poll found Gore ahead of Bush, 50% to 37%, among likely voters in California, with Ralph Nader capturing 4%.

A Zogby International poll found Gore ahead of Bush among likely California voters by a smaller margin, 45% to 39%, and Nader at 6%.

Meanwhile, Gore's running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, hammered Bush and Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney for "unfairly beating up on the vice president." At a campaign stop in Tacoma, Wash., he cited their criticism of Gore for saying he traveled to Texas with a federal emergency official, when it actually was with the official's deputy.

"I mean, give me a break," Lieberman said. "That's all nonsense that is diverting people from what the campaign is about.

"Maybe folks on the other side know that Al and I are really where America wants to be on the issues, so that forces them to resort to negative personal attacks," he told hundreds of students jammed into a chilly outdoor warehouse as he too promoted the college tuition proposal.

At the rally in Tennessee, Bush fended off the attacks on his Texas record by mocking Gore's troubles as a landlord in Tennessee.

Bush said Texas was "a great place to live, just like the great state of Tennessee. . . . I guess, though, it depends on who your landlord is."

The crowd roared with approval at Bush's reference to Gore--dubbed a "slumlord" by his tenants last spring--taking a long time to repair overflowing toilets and backed up sinks in the rental property he owns near his Carthage farm.

At a rally later in Greensboro, N.C., Bush stumbled over several lines, saying Gore's tax plan would bloat the federal government with "IRA agents" to "figure out what it means." He meant IRS agents; IRA agents are Irish terrorists.

Also Tuesday, Reform candidate Pat Buchanan lashed out at California Democratic Chairman Art Torres, who a day earlier had chided Buchanan for a new TV commercial attacking illegal immigration and suggesting the English language is under assault. Torres called it part of a "campaign of fear."

"Art's a Chicano chauvinist," Buchanan said.

Times staff writers Michael Finnegan, Megan Garvey and Matea Gold contributed to this story.

* TILTING THE UNDECIDEDS

The candidates hope to sway indecisive voters, but several factors could make it tough. E1

though "I know I'm not supposed to carry it."

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