MILWAUKEE — George W. Bush called his Democratic rival Al Gore the "second biggest obstacle to reform in America" on Monday as he barnstormed across three closely contested states in the Midwest.
Speaking to hundreds of cheering supporters at an airport terminal in Kansas City, Mo., the Republican presidential candidate said Gore and President Clinton have stood in the way of reforms in education, health care and Social Security.
"The Clinton-Gore administration has blocked reform at every turn," Bush said. "It came in with ringing promises and is now leaving with a sigh. For 7 1/2 years, the vice president has been the second biggest obstacle to reform in America, and now he wants to be the obstacle-in-chief."
Campaigning with Bush were four Republican governors who echoed his assertion that he would rise above the partisan squabbling in Washington and guide his agenda through Congress.
Bush, in his final push for independent and undecided voters, said Republican governors had "worked with Democrats" and "found progress at the vital center of American politics, and we've governed for the sake of everyone."
The governors, with Bush at their side, sought to reassure voters who have voiced doubts about whether he's prepared for the most powerful job in the world.
"We have a man who is absolutely ready for the White House," said Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. The governors also tried, one by one, to raise questions about Gore's character.
"America is starved for real leadership from the White House, leadership we can trust to tell the truth," Ohio Gov. Robert A. Taft told the crowd. Bush "doesn't make things up; he makes things happen."
Guinn called Bush "a man of integrity," and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee alluded to the fund-raising improprieties of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we don't need a political vending machine, where you put in money and you get whatever you want out of it, and that's what Al Gore represents," Huckabee said.
Bush surrogates sounded the same theme Monday evening at a rally of about 5,000 people packed into the Milwaukee Auditorium for the last stop on the "W Stands for Women" tour led by the candidate's wife, Laura Bush.
Cindy McCain, the wife of Sen. John McCain, told the crowd that Gore needs a copy of "Telling the Truth," a book by Lynne Cheney, the wife of Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney.
"He should read it on his way out of Washington," Cindy McCain said to a roar of laughter. She went on to introduce Laura Bush as "the kind of person who's going to bring dignity, honor and grace back to the White House."
Finally, the Texas governor took to the stage amid thunderous cheers, a cloud of fog and flashing spotlights befitting a rock concert. As he delivered his stump speech, some women shrieked from the balcony, "We love you, Mr. President!" Bush responded, "Behave yourself."
At every campaign stop on Monday, Bush continued to fight off Gore's attack on his plan to let young workers put some of their Social Security benefits into personal investment accounts.
"Mr. Gore doesn't even want an honest discussion, and that is proven by his TV ads," Bush told the crowd in Kansas City. "Scare tactics, distortions and yes, of course, exaggerations--that's all my opponent's got left."
Bush went on to trash the vice president's proposed Social Security reforms, saying they would produce $40 trillion in government "IOUs."
"Massive debt will require a massive tax increase or a major benefit cut on the next generation," he said.
Gore's plan could require a 34% increase in payroll taxes starting in 2015, he charged.
Later, at a campaign stop in Des Moines, Bush told hundreds of supporters at an ink factory: "I understand it's coming around Halloween time, and they're trying to scare people into the voting booth. But we're not going to let them do that. They're not going to get away with that this time."
Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell denied the accusations. She also said that Clinton and Gore had worked successfully with the Republicans in Congress to reform welfare, cut taxes and put 100,000 new police officers on the streets and 30,000 new teachers in public schools. And she questioned Bush's qualifications for the presidency.
"Many people have great doubts about Gov. Bush's understanding of very serious issues," she said.
The three states where Bush campaigned on Monday--Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa--are major battlegrounds in the presidential race. Today he will campaign in three others: Illinois, Tennessee and Florida.
Meanwhile, four major Muslim American organizations announced Monday that they were backing Bush, citing, among other things, his opposition to the use of secret evidence in immigration cases. The use of secret evidence is allowed under U.S. anti-terrorism laws, but Muslim groups say they have disproportionately affected Arab Americans and other Muslims.
The organizations are the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, American Muslim Council and American Muslim Alliance. The endorsement could be especially valuable in Michigan, a crucial swing state that is home to the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East.