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Back Home, Bush Woos California Delegates

Strategy: Addressing convention in Palm Springs via satellite, Texas governor calls state a 'battleground.'


AUSTIN, Texas — Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush cast Vice President Al Gore as a champion of intrusive bureaucracy as he drew a sharp, point-by-point contrast Saturday on the issues between himself and his Democratic rival.

In a speech beamed by satellite to California's Republican state convention in Palm Springs, Bush attacked Gore's positions on tax cuts, Social Security, Medicare and education, saying the campaign boils down to "two visions" for America.

"My opponent's ideas are shaped by a quarter century in Washington," Bush said from his Texas ranch near Waco. "They were tired even when his career began. Every big idea means bigger government."

Bush's broadside was part of what has been billed as a new effort to spotlight the differences between him and Gore on issues amid a new wave of polls finding the vice president slightly ahead or the two candidates running dead even.

"My opponent, after months of bitter attack politics, says he wants to talk about policy, he wants to talk about issues," Bush said. "I welcome him. I am glad he wants to play on our turf."

Bush has been touching on these same issues day after day on the campaign trail and, aides said, he will continue to try to raise doubts about Gore's credibility. He did as much Saturday on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields" show.

"Character is an issue in this campaign," Bush said. Gore, he added, is "a good family man, no question about that. But he has been a part of an administration that's violated financing laws."

Bush mentioned Gore's fund-raising calls from the White House and his 1996 appearance at a Democratic fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif. Maria Hsia, a former Democratic Party fund-raiser, was convicted of five felonies for her role in the temple fund-raiser.

Bush's speech to the California GOP convention came a day after he concluded a three-day visit to the state. His spokesman, Ray Sullivan, said Bush had to return to Texas so that a crew from Oprah Winfrey's television show could tape footage of Bush and his wife, Laura, for his appearance on the program Tuesday.

Though Gore consistently has led Bush in polls of California voters--the latest Field Poll found the vice president 13 percentage points ahead--the GOP candidate told convention delegates he still views it as "a battleground state."

"My opponent has made the mistake of already counting the votes in California, but we're going to earn them," Bush said.

Peter Ragone, a spokesman for Gore's California campaign, said Gore has visited the state nine times this year and will return this week. He called Bush's remarks a "smoke screen" for his inability to win California's 54 electoral votes; 270 electoral votes are needed to win the White House.

"You can't be in the hip holster of the [National Rifle Assn.] and be in sync with California voters, and you can't promise a gargantuan tax cut that takes money away from programs like Head Start and be in sync with the voters of California," Ragone said.

Bush's speech was largely a scathing, and often sarcastic, attack on the vice president's proposals.

He mocked, for example, Gore's plan to cut taxes only for "targeted" groups--Gore would reduce taxes by $500 billion over 10 years--and he touted his own more sweeping proposal to cut $1.3 trillion in taxes over the same time.

On education, an issue that appeals to many of the moderate voters who will decide the election, Bush scoffed at Gore's pledge to hold schools accountable, saying the vice president wouldn't require annual testing to prove results.

"Al Gore gives speeches about revolutionary changes in the schools," Bush said. "Most Americans would settle for high standards, accountability, discipline, local control and a choice in the matter. That is all the revolution we need, and Mr. Gore is on the wrong side of it."

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