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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Campaign Aide Calls for Attacks on Bush

Politics: Strategist in California warns that the vice president faces losing the election if he does not emphasize the governor's record in Texas.

October 18, 2000|DAN MORAIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A top advisor to Vice President Al Gore's campaign in California warned Tuesday that unless the Democrat shifts his tactics, he faces losing on election day three weeks from now.

Garry South, a top unpaid strategist for Gore in California, said the vice president needs to attack Texas Gov. George W. Bush by emphasizing the Republican's record as chief executive in the nation's second-largest state.

"I think that we're at a critical juncture where there have to be some serious re-calibrations of what we're doing or we're in trouble," said South, who also is the top political advisor to Gov. Gray Davis.

South, speaking to the Sacramento Press Club, made his comments before the two presidential candidates met in their final debate Tuesday, an event that he said would be critical for Gore. But he said Gore lost an opportunity in the first 90-minute debate by not bringing up Bush's record in Texas.

"This [campaign] will boil down to whether or not Gore is able to make the contrast here in a sustained, effective way without seeming harsh and without seeming over-aggressive," South said.

Gore spokesman Peter Ragone disputed South's assessment, saying: "We have made a very strong effort throughout this campaign of pointing out the shortcomings of Gov. Bush's record in Texas."

However, South rattled off no fewer than 41 statistics, ratings and comparisons portraying Texas as having among the nation's worst records on everything from child immunizations and literacy to drunken driving deaths and spending on schools.

"You don't let anything your opponent has ever done, said, thought, worn, eaten, heard or anything else go uncommented on," South said.

A Democratic source took issue with South's comments, saying that polls consistently show a double-digit lead for Gore in California and attributing South's remarks to a pique over the campaign for Proposition 39, a ballot measure to lower the vote required to pass local school bonds.

The source said the governor and South are afraid the measure will lose, and they are hoping to pressure the Democratic National Committee to finance phone banks and other operations. South said at the press club, however, that he believes the measure will pass.

He also said that Bush is drawing closer to Gore in California, a state that is widely viewed as a Democratic stronghold. A recent Field Institute Poll showed Gore leading Bush in the state, 50% to 37%.

But while South predicted that Gore will win California, with its 54 electoral votes, he also said Gore may be forced to increase his campaign effort, given that Bush has stumped here and is airing television commercials.

"There is a sense among major players [advising Gore] here that it may be an option we have to consider," South said, though he added that there is no agreement.

South was chairman of Gore's executive steering committee in California during last spring's primary. He holds no formal title with the campaign now. But South is a key part of Davis' campaign team, and Davis is Gore's California campaign chairman.

South said a narrow win for Gore in California could have a ripple effect, particularly in key congressional contests. South suggested that a slim victory could make it harder for state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) to unseat Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale).

Even in California, he said, voters are not aware of Bush's record. He noted, for instance, that while Gore has questioned whether Bush would have an anti-abortion rights litmus test for judicial appointees, he has not emphasized legislation that Bush has signed as Texas governor that limit a woman's right to abortion.

"If you allow your opponent to hang something around your neck, and you do not face that off by hanging something on his neck, you're in trouble," South said. "If Gore has to answer for the sins of Bill Clinton but we do not make George Bush answer for the sins for Texas, that is not a winning campaign in my judgment."

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