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Ebullient Bush Urges Backers to Deliver California to GOP

Campaign: With Sen. McCain at his side, he tells a Burbank crowd that the Republican ticket best meshes with this state of 'independent voters.'


With an upbeat defiance of California's recent tilt to his opponent's party, Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Monday asked a boisterous and worshipful Burbank crowd to deliver him the nation's biggest state on election day.

Ebullient as he prowled the stage at an airport hotel, Bush lauded the state's independent streak and--joined by his onetime nemesis and maverick voter magnet, Sen. John McCain of Arizona--insisted that the GOP ticket best meshes with this complicated state.

"The people of California don't want Washington telling them what to do," Bush said. "This is a state of independent voters.

"I've been raised in the school of politics that says you've got to ask for the vote. I'm here to ask for the vote," Bush said, repeating the request in Spanish.

The remark was an implicit denunciation of Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, who Bush has criticized for not campaigning or running television ads in California. Gore, who was last here on Sept. 20, is due to arrive today for a Westwood rally and appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno." Bush taped the show Monday, after his afternoon arrival.

Bush's trip to California was his first since Sept. 27, and it came as two recent polls have Gore leading in the state, by 7 and 10 points respectively. But Bush has been undeterred by the margin, pledging that he will win the state's 54 electoral votes. His backers insist he is confident of his chances; his opponents say it is an effort to draw Gore out of more competitive states.

In Burbank, Bush noted that both Gore and President Clinton are due to campaign in California this week. And, he said, he had a message for them:

"Welcome to Bush Country!"

As he has in previous visits, Bush attempted to link himself to former President Reagan, whose image eclipses all other Republicans in this state a full 20 years after he won the presidency. Bush alluded to his Western upbringing: "People seem to forget I'm from the West. West Texas."

On "The Tonight Show," Bush expressed his admiration for Reagan. "I loved his optimism," said the GOP nominee, who has appealed to independent and moderate voters with his own sunny take on politics.

While his message was unbridled confidence, Bush also sought to inspire his supporters with a bit of traditional us-against-them rhetoric.

"There are going to be a lot of shocked people on Nov. 7, starting with my opponent and all the pundits who don't understand what's happening in California," he said. "Guess what's going to happen on Nov. 7? We're going to show them different. I believe it as sure as I'm standing here--California's going to go Bush-Cheney on Nov. 7."

For Bush, it was mostly a day to cast himself as the optimistic conciliator, leaving to running mate Dick Cheney the task of castigating Gore.

Campaigning in Iowa, Cheney questioned Gore's presidential credentials when it comes to bettering the lot of the armed forces. That was a turnabout of sorts: On Sunday, Gore's running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, had criticized Bush as unequipped to be president.

Cheney said, "He is not up to the task, in my opinion, of being commander in chief of this nation's armed forces."

Cheney dismissed the Democratic argument that Gore and Lieberman bring more experience to the table than he and Bush. Cheney, the former congressman, Defense secretary and White House chief of staff, characterized their opponents as Washington insiders detached from the real world.

"It seems to me that it's those guys who spent virtually their entire careers in elective office getting paid by the government," Cheney said, eliciting cheers and laughter from the crowd of about 400 outside Loras College, a Catholic school in Dubuque.

Bush's rally in Burbank was meant as an emotional boost to those working on his behalf here, a visible encouragement to proceed enthusiastically with the phone-calling, letter-dropping, banner-raising efforts of the next seven days.

At an earlier campaign stop in Albuquerque, Bush made a more expansive argument for his election as a "fresh, bipartisan" leader. He assailed Gore as a practitioner of "the politics of division"--a phrase with which President Clinton battered Bush's own father in 1992.

"The issue of leadership provides the greatest contrast in this campaign," Bush said. "Should I be elected, we will bring America together."

Bush also took pains to compare his education plans positively against Gore's. But he also had to play some defense as the campaign's final week began. He resoundingly rejected Democratic criticism of his $1.3-trillion tax cut plan and his concurrent proposal to partially privatize Social Security.

He accused the Democrats of trying, Halloween-style, to scare senior citizens about the implications of the Bush plan. Gore has argued that his proposal, which would allow young workers to privately invest a portion of the money they now pay to Social Security, would lead to either a massive payroll tax increase or benefit cutbacks.

Bush on Monday countered that "nothing will change" for seniors.

"I will work to save Social Security, and seniors will not see any cut in their benefits--no changes, no how, no way!" Bush told several thousand supporters gathered at the Albuquerque airport.


Chen reported from the Bush campaign, and Boucher from the Cheney campaign. The story was written by Times political writer Cathleen Decker.

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