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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bush Cranks Up the Rhetorical Heat as Gore Focuses His Attentions on Nader

Democrats: Vice president warns that votes for Green Party could help the GOP.

October 27, 2000|MICHAEL FINNEGAN and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

MADISON, Wis. — In his most dramatic effort to stave off the threat posed to his presidential campaign by Ralph Nader, Al Gore argued Thursday that oil companies and other "big polluters" would welcome a big turnout for the environmental activist and Green Party candidate.

Speaking here outside the domed state Capitol to a crowd estimated by police at more than 30,000, Democrat Gore said that a large vote for Nader could set back the fight against global warming by putting Republican George W. Bush in the White House.

The vice president's remarks reflected rising fears among Democrats that Nader, who has pulled around 5% in national polls, could tip enough closely contested states to Bush to cost Gore the election.

For his part, Nader has been unrelenting in criticizing Gore and, before Gore's remarks Thursday, did just that.

"Al Gore, in his typically cowardly way, is sending out surrogates, most of them progressive Democrats who he has not supported, to criticize our campaign," he said. "This is typical of Gore. He has a serious character deficiency. If he wants to challenge me, he should challenge me directly."

A little later, as if to oblige, Gore did just that as well.

"If the big oil companies and the chemical manufacturers and the other big polluters were able to communicate a message to this state, they would say, 'Vote for George Bush, or in any case, vote for Ralph Nader,' " Gore told the crowd.

Democratic concern about Nader is particularly sharp in states such as Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, where Nader has attracted huge crowds. These are states the Democrats had counted on winning and where, at this late date, they continue to campaign vigorously.

Gore's campaign has dispatched leaders of environmental and other groups to argue against voting for Nader. On Thursday, the National Abortion Rights Action League was broadcasting a television commercial warning that "voting for Ralph Nader helps elect George Bush."

Nader repeatedly has countered that the distinctions between the major parties have blurred, largely because of their constant hunt for large campaign contributions. Or, as he put it while campaigning Thursday in Ohio, the Democratic and Republican parties are "morphing into one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup."

As for Gore, Nader said, "If it made any difference to me whether Gore is elected or not, I wouldn't be running. Why would I even bother? Most people who run for president run to take as many votes as possible from all the other candidates."

But Gore said that Nader supporters must weigh the difference between making a symbolic statement and handing over the White House to Bush.

Global Warming Hot-Button Issue

In 50 years, Gore said, people should look back and say that Green Party voters and others "took a long hard look at how high the stakes were, and they decided that there was one candidate [Gore] in this race who was committed heart and soul to take the hard steps that are needed to fight against global warming."

And those people from the future, he went on, would look back at Madison and agree that people there made a decision to "reject the cynicism" and vote for Gore rather than making a "symbolic statement" for Nader.

Gore, whose signature issue is the environment, warned supporters at the rally here--the biggest of his campaign--of "catastrophic consequences" from global warming.

But protecting the environment--in particular fighting global warming--has been a signature issue for the Greens as well. The party platform calls for a gradual phaseout of gasoline and other fossil fuels and, in considerable detail, places an emphasis on promoting renewable energy and "sustainable" agriculture.

The party's platform also strikes an unusually sentimental tone as it describes Green beliefs: "Greens are advocates for the Earth. All the rivers, lakes, landscapes, forests and wildlife. This is our birthright and our home--the green Earth. When we see the first picture ever taken of our green oasis from space, photographed from the window of the Apollo flight, we marvel at the preciousness of life."

Gore, meanwhile, took on Bush as well as Nader, attacking the Republican nominee's record as governor of Texas. "If you want the Madison skyline to look more like the Houston skyline, George Bush is your choice in this election," he hollered.

At campaign stops earlier in Iowa and Missouri, Gore also cited the new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international group of climate scientists, that found that the average global temperature could rise 11 degrees over the next 100 years.

Most major environmental groups in the country have endorsed Gore. But Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett on Thursday noted that some environmental leaders have questioned Gore's record on global warming.

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