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Bush Pulls Out the Stops to Attract Swing Vote

Politics: The Republican goes after independents and 'open-minded Democrats.' His tactics: Ads and a Florida bus tour with Sen. McCain.


AUSTIN, Texas — Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush appealed Saturday for the support of "open-minded Democrats" and cast his rival Al Gore as a champion of "meddling, overbearing government."

In a speech beamed by satellite to supporters in Seattle and Spokane, Wash., Bush aimed for the swing voters who will decide the closest presidential race in a generation.

"We need to appeal to the independents," he said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he was spending the weekend.

The winner of the election "will be determined precinct by precinct," and "we need to reach out to those open-minded Democrats who want a fresh start in Washington, D.C."

The Texas governor is using a variety of tactics to do that, including two television ads released Saturday. The ads, to be shown in 19 states, focus on his proposals to improve education, an issue that polls show is a priority for moderates.

Bush also plans to take a bus tour through central Florida on Wednesday with John McCain, the maverick Republican senator from Arizona whose presidential candidacy inspired independent voters.

McCain campaigned Saturday with Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, in Michigan, while his wife, Cindy McCain, will join Bush on the stump Monday in Wisconsin. All three of those states are major battlegrounds and account for 54 electoral votes. It takes 270 to win the White House.

Another new incentive for independents to back Bush, aides said, is the heightened visibility of President Clinton stumping for Gore.

"We'd be more than pleased to help the president in any way get the word out that he's out campaigning for Al Gore," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Clinton might help shore up Gore's "crumbling" base of Democrats, Fleischer said, but he'll also galvanize Republicans and move independents into Bush's camp.

Clinton, during his Saturday radio address, charged that Republicans in Congress were trying to load up the federal budget with pork-barrel projects to curry votes in their home districts. At a Democratic rally in Indianapolis, he said a Gore administration would continue the economic prosperity of the last eight years.

As for Bush, a theme as he campaigns this week in Michigan, Pennsylvania and other closely contested states will be his vow to break down partisan barriers in Washington.

Today, the Republican governors of those states and 26 others will push that argument in an appearance with Bush here in the Texas capital. From Austin, they will fan out across the country to promote Bush as a candidate who will reform education, cut taxes and expand access to health care.

At the same time, Bush will "respectfully but forcefully press the case about what would happen to America if Al Gore is elected," Fleischer said.

It's a grim picture, to judge by Bush's speech Saturday to Republicans in Seattle and Spokane: "My opponent's ideas are shaped by a quarter-century in the city of Washington, and they were tired even before his career began. Every idea means bigger government."

Bush mocked Gore's proposed tax cut--$500 billion over 10 years--as an "iffy tax scheme" targeted too narrowly to groups favored by the vice president.

"If you do this, you may get a tax break; if you do that, you might get a tax break," he said.

"That is the kind of meddling, overbearing government you're going to get if you vote for Al Gore."

Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera said, "The reality is that both of the candidates in this race are putting forward targeted tax cuts.

"Al Gore is targeting his toward the middle class entirely, whereas George W. Bush is targeting his primarily for the wealthy." Bush's proposed tax cut dwarfs Gore's at $1.3 trillion over 10 years.

With the most recent national polls giving him a slight edge over Gore, Bush will try to make inroads this week into states that Clinton won in 1992 and 1996, Fleischer said. The two new ads will run in Minnesota, and Bush will campaign Tuesday in Illinois. Those states have leaned toward Gore in the polls, and Bush had not run ads in Minnesota.


Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this story.

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