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Bush, Gore Go on Attack on Economy, National Security

Politics: Candidates paint election as a life-or-death crossroads for the country. Voters are warned about new recessions, dependence on foreign oil supplies.


CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Escalating their rhetoric as judgment day nears, Al Gore and George W. Bush on Friday each cast the presidential election as a life-or-death decision, one in which the nation's security and economic well-being hang in the balance.

After muting most of their remarks Thursday in deference to the deaths of U.S. sailors in Yemen and the escalating battles in Israel, Bush and Gore glanced at the election calendar and came out swinging.

At a noon rally here, Gore warned that the nation's healthy economy hinges on the outcome Nov. 7. A vote for Bush, he said, would mean a return to the "repeat recessions" of the 1980s.

"Make no mistake," the vice president said, "because of that big tax cut for the wealthy on the other side"--as the Democrat describes Bush's budget proposal--"prosperity itself is on the ballot this year."

Republican Bush, in language that was particularly strong given the traditional respect accorded an administration in a time of crisis, condemned the Clinton administration for what he said was its acquiescence to dependence on foreign oil. He told workers at a General Motors truck design and engineering plant in Pontiac, Mich., that the absence of a domestic energy plan had left Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a "major supplier" of oil to America.

"This means that one of our worst enemies is gaining more and more control over our country's economic future," the Texas governor and former oilman said. "The current crisis in the Middle East underscores the danger of American reliance on Saddam Hussein's oil."

Iraq exports about 800,000 barrels of oil daily to the United States, or less than 4% of the 19 million barrels consumed daily in this country. While that may not be a particularly large percentage, Iraq does supply close to one-tenth of the 10.8 million barrels imported daily by the United States; its exports constitute one-third of the oil arriving from the petroleum-rich Middle East.

While the two principals were battling each other, their seconds also unsheathed partisan swords. That particularly was true concerning Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman, who toured destitute colonias near the Texas-Mexico border and accused Bush of neglecting his constituents. Republican nominee Dick Cheney, meanwhile, echoed Bush's concerns about U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

As the third presidential debate neared--it will be Tuesday in St. Louis--the contest was a dead heat, and the candidates were working overtime to press their particular characterizations on the American electorate.

For Bush, that meant casting Gore as the embellishing vice president in an administration that has ignored some pressing problems, and as a candidate whose solutions to those problems smack of the big government that voters have repudiated over the last two decades.

For Gore, that meant casting Bush as a man who has stood up for wealthy interests and has ignored the rest in Texas, and a candidate whose proposals, if enacted, would cause the nation to revisit economically dire times.

For the second consecutive day, the vice president's campaigning was cut short by the crisis in the Middle East. After his Cedar Rapids rally, he returned to Washington to join President Clinton in a late meeting on foreign developments. On Thursday, Gore curtailed his campaigning in Wisconsin to consult with the president at the White House.

Gore Sounds the Recession Warnings

Gore was to have met Friday in Detroit with Arab American leaders. Instead, he met with some of them in Washington, according to his spokesman Chris Lehane.

In the last two days, Gore has straddled his two roles: that of a supportive vice president in an administration grappling with crisis and a presidential candidate seeking to impress voters with his own proposals. His remarks reflected that mix Friday.

"We stand together as a nation, especially in times like this," Gore said as he began his speech. "This is a time of great tension in the Middle East, and it is a time when our country's leadership is needed. We are going to, as a nation . . . stand together, do everything we can to promote peace with security."

The candidate also emerged with a denunciation of Bush's economic plan that sought none-too-subtly to remind voters of the economic downturn that marked the presidency of Bush's father.

"If we squander the surplus and go back into deficits again, the most likely outcome is higher interest rates, lessened confidence in our economy and a higher risk of returning to the kinds of repeat recessions we had in the 1980s," Gore said.

"We now have the greatest chance in our lifetime to make the kind of difference for our children and our grandchildren that we've always dreamed of. . . . Do we keep our prosperity going or squander it to give a big tax cut to the wealthy?"

If Gore was touting the economy, Bush was trying to link together multiple denunciations of Gore on foreign, energy and environmental policies.

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