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Democratic Duo Woos Midwest

Politics: Courting the undecided, Gore and Lieberman call economic policies the central choice facing voters. Senator questions Bush's experience.


FOND DU LAC, Wis. — Quoting the Beatles and challenging George W. Bush's fitness for the White House, Al Gore and his vice presidential running mate worked Monday to fan doubts about the Texas governor's experience, policies and record.

Campaigning together on a bus tour across the political battlefields of the Great Lakes, Gore and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut spent a second consecutive day in the Midwest. They drew sharp contrasts between the Democratic and Republican economic programs, and they presented that choice as the central one facing voters one week from today.

As opportunities to draw in the remaining undecided voters dwindle, the Democratic ticket is refining its message to its most basic point: Voters must decide whether to turn back to policies that benefit America's wealthiest citizens, or to protect the wider prosperity won over the last eight years.

"You deserve a president who champions all the people, and doesn't just cave in to the few," the vice president said to a crowd of 200 invited to a rally on a Lake Michigan beach.

"You deserve better than rubber checks to pay for runaway spending, and a rubber stamp for the powerful interests."

It was the start of a campaign day that threatened to run 22 hours, taking the Democratic hopeful across the lake for an afternoon-long bus tour through the villages and farmland of eastern Wisconsin, south along the shore of Lake Winnebago as the sun was setting and to two more rallies, including one that drew 11,000 supporters in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha, before a midnight flight to Portland, Ore.

It fell to Lieberman, at the candidates' rally in Green Bay, to question Bush's fitness for the presidency. He reiterated criticisms voiced on TV news shows over the weekend, but Monday for the first time made his attack with Gore at his side.

The vice president stood nearly still, hands at his side, his lips edging into a barely discernible smile.

Lieberman said of the Republican presidential candidate:

"When you look at his record . . . when you look at the experience, five years as governor of Texas; when you look at his ideas for the future of our country, which overspend the surplus . . . [and] would take us back to deficits, high interest rates, high unemployment, a low stock market; let me tell you, honestly, George Bush is not ready to be president of the United States."

Lieberman was gleeful over a Monday New York Times article raising doubts that Texas' schools are doing as good a job as Bush claims and stating that "test preparation is overwhelming the curriculum."

The senator said that he and Gore "are for accountability in our schools." But, he said, "tests should be about making sure kids are learning, not making sure politicians of that state happen to look good."

Going after Bush's record as Texas governor is a key part of the Gore campaign's strategy to challenge Bush's readiness for the presidency.

President Bush used much the same approach 12 years ago, with great success, when he ran for the White House against Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts. Four years later, he used it against Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas. It failed.

From the start of the day Monday, Gore seemed pumped.

Fond of sprinkling Bob Dylan lyrics across his campaign rhetoric, the vice president told supporters that a Beatles tune was on his mind: "There's eight days a week right now," Gore said, promising an all-out drive to election day.

Gore made a stop in the small town of Chilton, where he engaged in his favored aerobic hand-shaking exercise, working a rope line of several hundred people gathered along his motorcade route in no more than about six minutes.

Stepping up his call for campaign finance reform, Gore linked contributions to policy influence in Washington and said: "The drug companies ought not have a megaphone to shout down what your point of view is." Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) is a champion of major restrictions in campaign finance.

The vice president also paid heed to support in the state for Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader. According to a Zogby Poll released Monday, Gore holds a 49%-40% advantage over Bush in the state, with Nader capturing 6% of the vote. The error margin was 4%.

In Green Bay at midday, about 1,000 people flocked to the lawn of the Brown County courthouse for a rally. Under sunny skies, the vice president shed his gray suit jacket, declaring: "It's chilly, but I'm hot. And I'll tell you, this election is hot, this race is close. Have you noticed?"

Across the street stood a clutch of Bush and Nader supporters. Errin Kolden, 30, held a sign painted on a sheet of plywood: "Hey, Al, I like motorcycles, BWC snowmobiles [a reference to the Boundary Waters park shared with Canada], ATVs & guns. I guess U don't have my VOTE."

Lieberman started his day with an unscheduled stop at a diner in Saginaw, Mich., that brought home the debate over whether President Clinton is a help or a hindrance to the Gore campaign.

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