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Focusing on Tax Cuts, Bush Sidesteps Education Study Questions

Politics: Governor mocks rival's plan of 'targeted' relief. His campaign fields queries about findings that challenge validity of Texas test score claims.


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — George W. Bush campaigned Tuesday at two schools, but education was far from the top of his agenda.

As gleeful Democrats hailed a new study that raised questions about his record on education as governor of Texas, Bush told supporters at a suburban Chicago school that education had been "a priority of mine" in Austin.

But the Republican presidential candidate quickly moved on to his topic of the day, tax cuts, and said nothing about the study by the Rand Corp. The study questioned the validity of the recorded rise in student test scores in Texas, which Bush touts as one of his biggest accomplishments as governor.

Bush left it to his communications director, Karen Hughes, to juggle reporters' questions about the study. Hughes described the study's timing two weeks before the election as "highly suspect" and said "the conclusions are dead wrong and at odds with every credible study of the facts."

In the school gym, Bush turned his attention to his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore, mocking his proposed $500 billion in tax cuts over 10 years.

Bush said the plan, which offers tax cuts to "targeted" groups in the middle class, is "so restrictive it's hard to figure out who gets what--one of these plans that's going to require a lot of green eyeshades to figure out the fine print."

"How many of you own hybrid electric-gasoline engine vehicles?" he asked hundreds of students and supporters on the gym's basketball court and in the bleachers.

The crowd laughed.

"When he talks about targeted tax relief, that's pretty darned targeted," Bush said. "How many of you own a rooftop photovoltaic system?"

More chuckles.

"If you had one, you'd get tax relief."

Then, in the course of his speech, he entertained the audience by rattling off more questions:

"How many of you have three or more children and claimed you earned an income credit?"

"How many of you are stay-at-home moms and have babies under the age of 1? . . . I think you're beginning to get the drift of what the definition of 'targeted' is."

Bush, who has proposed reducing taxes by $1.3 trillion over 10 years, summed up his critique of Gore's tax proposal, saying, "This country doesn't need a president who's trying to pick and choose the winners and losers when it comes to tax relief."

Bush also continued to portray Gore as a champion of big bureaucracy, saying he "wants to increase the size and scope of the federal government to the largest we've seen since the '60s."

Gore, while campaigning Tuesday, said he would do just the opposite.

In his brief remarks on schools, Bush said he would insist on "results."

"Instead of asking the question, 'How old are you?'--well, you're 10, we're going to put you here, or you're 12, we'll move you here, or 14, you go there--we're going to start asking the question, 'What do you know?' And if you don't know what you're supposed to know, we'll make sure you do early, before it's too late."

Bush also took questions from some eighth-graders, including one who asked about President Clinton.

"I'm not running against President Clinton," Bush said. "I don't think there's a lot of politics to be gained talking about him. As a matter of fact, I think most Americans would rather move on."

Bush joked about whether the president's role in Gore's campaign might harm the vice president's effort to emerge from Clinton's shadow.

"If [Clinton] decides he can't help himself and starts getting out there and campaigning against me--the shadow returns--I may say something in defense of my record."

Another student asked about abortion. Bush, an opponent of abortion rights, called for promoting adoption and banning the procedure known by its critics as partial-birth abortion. He also said he needed "to explain to our nation that life is important."

"It's not only life of babies, but it's life of children living in the dark dungeons of the Internet," he said. "It's life of people where there's an attitude that, hey, somebody's life doesn't matter, I think I'll take out my aggressions in somebody's neighborhood."

Asked about the possibility that Texas had put to death people wrongly convicted of capital crimes, Bush said he was sure that had not happened.

"The people we've executed have been guilty of the crime charged, and they've had full access to the courts," he said.

Bush campaigned later in Tennessee, Gore's home state. At a rally of 1,000 supporters at a middle school in Knoxville, he called Tennessee "Bush country."

Gore has never lost an election in Tennessee, but Bush said, "He may win Washington, D.C., but he's not going to win Tennessee."

Today, Bush will team up with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, his opponent in the hard-fought Republican primaries, on a bus tour of central Florida.

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