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CAMPAIGN 2000

Governors Barnstorm for Bush

October 23, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AUSTIN, Texas — Republican governors from across the nation joined George W. Bush on Sunday to bolster his claim that as president he could break through the partisan gridlock in Washington.

The 28 governors will set off today on seven chartered planes to Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Arizona and 21 other states to stump for Bush, the governor of Texas.

To kick off the three-day "barnstorm for reform," the governors lined up in three rows behind Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, at a hotel here near the domed Texas Capitol.

"I can't think of a better way to kick off the last two weeks of this campaign than to stand up with my colleagues and encourage them to go out and invigorate the grass-roots organizations that we have in place all across the country," Bush said. "It's going to be a good beginning of the final sprint, and I'm glad I'm sprinting with these good folks."

The tour enables Bush to showcase prominent Republican supporters while keeping his distance from GOP members of Congress who are mired in the very "partisan bickering" he promises to stop.

Among those appearing with the Republican presidential nominee on Sunday were his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

Govs. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, John Engler of Michigan, Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin and Thomas J. Ridge of Pennsylvania were also behind him.

The group is not a diverse crowd--26 white men and two white women--but they represent three out of four Americans and oversee a vast terrain of electoral real estate.

The carefully choreographed tour will take them mainly to closely contested states, such as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania. But they will also campaign in states that have leaned in the polls toward Al Gore, such as California, and others that have favored Bush, such as North Carolina.

Bush will join four of the governors today in Kansas City, Mo.

"The collective message of all of us on this stage is that the Clinton-Gore administration has been the chief obstacle to reform in America," Bush said.

On education, he charged, President Clinton and the vice president are "locked into the failed ideas of the past." On Social Security and Medicare, he said, they blew their chance for "bipartisan solutions."

"Instead of seizing the moment, they use those issues as political issues, as a way to clobber somebody in the political process," Bush said.

At a time when Democrats are hammering Bush's record in Texas on pollution and health care, the governors applauded his work with both parties in the Legislature to cut taxes and reform welfare, education and the legal system.

Ridge said that Bush had "brought people together time and time again with great success and to the great benefit of all of the people of Texas."

To underscore his bipartisanship, Bush's campaign is dispatching a Texas Democrat to accompany each of the seven groups of governors on the tour.

West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood, who is in a tight race for reelection, is the only Republican governor who is not on the tour. But he joined the others in signing a full-page ad for Bush to be published today in USA Today.

Gore's presidential campaign accused Bush of launching the tour with "distortions and false attacks."

Campaign spokeswoman Kym Spell said the Democratic administration had worked with the GOP majority in Congress to pass laws that put 100,000 police officers on the streets, expanded access to health care for children, reduced class size in public schools and lowered the tax burden on middle-income families.

"It's actually a mystery why these governors would endorse Bush's plan to squander the surplus on a tax cut for the wealthy and neglect issues that affect people in their states, like education and health care," she said. "Why would they want Bush to do to their states what he's done to Texas?"

Bush and Cheney called the governors effective leaders who had worked with Democrats to fight crime, cut welfare rolls, reform education and reduce taxes. Clinton and Gore made such things impossible in Washington, they said.

"For eight years now, the nation's capital has been a scene of seemingly endless partisanship and ill will," Cheney said. "But for those same eight years, in state capitals all across America, Republicans and Democrats have worked together to do the people's business."

Engler said the governors were embarking on "the real prosperity tour." He called the group "a metaphor for the change and reform that George Bush represents."

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Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this story.

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