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Bush Tries to Woo Female Voters, Middle Class Away From Rival Gore

Republicans: Texas governor visits a maternity ward and lauds single mothers. He also describes how his tax-cut plan would help average families.


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Women of America, beware: George W. Bush wants your vote, and on Monday he went straight to the maternity ward to get it.

Bush kicked off a six-day campaign swing here Monday to showcase how his proposals would affect families from birth to death. In what his staff described as the "metaphor of life" tour, Bush took aim straight at female voters, who favor his Democratic opponent Al Gore by more than a dozen percentage points.

The Republican presidential nominee's first stop Monday was the nursery at St. Vincent's Doctors Hospital in President Clinton's home state. "This is heaven, all kinds of babies to kiss," he crooned without kissing a one.

Then came a speech about how the tax code cheats families of their time together by forcing "many of our middle-class families [to] work three jobs--his, hers and the joint responsibility of raising children."

Even more burdened, Bush declared next, is that valiant parent, the single mother, holder of "the toughest job in America." She is, he sympathized, "a brave woman struggling to bring her children up in a place of love and caring and concern."

Flanked on a hospital stage by his wife, Laura, and two young families that he said would be helped by his $1.3-trillion, 10-year tax-cut proposal, Bush waxed sentimental about maternity wards and memories of his own children's birth. "I can remember the thrill and emotion of hugging our babies for the first time," he said.

Monday was about taxes as well as tots and the Texas governor spent much of his short speech describing how his tax-cut plan would help every American taxpayer--particularly middle-class families.

Bush's tax plan, one of many domestic policy proposals summarized in the 15-page "Blueprint for the Middle Class" pamphlet handed out along the campaign trail Monday, would:

* Reduce the lowest tax bracket from 15% to 10%.

* Limit the federal tax bite for middle-class families to one-quarter of their income.

* Repeal the so-called marriage penalty, under which many two-income couples pay more in taxes than if they were single individuals filing separately.

* Double the child tax credit to $1,000 per child.

* Raise the amount a taxpayer can put in an education savings account to $5,000 per year from $500.

Dick Cheney, the Republican vice presidential candidate, echoed similar themes Monday during a West Coast swing that stretched from Seattle to Sacramento.

Cheney introduced the "Blueprint" at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue, a well-to-do Seattle suburb, using a chart in which rooms of a house represented different government functions. Taxes, for example, fell between two bathrooms.

Cheney hit on the need to improve public schools, saying low-performing schools "consign millions of our youngsters, especially the most disadvantaged," to inferior educations. The Bush-Cheney campaign has proposed withholding federal funds for low-income students from public schools that fail to improve within three years.

Cheney also lashed out at Gore for a Hollywood fund-raising dinner the vice president was to attend Monday night.

"They spend their days on school buses pretending to be on the sides of moms and dads," Cheney said, "when in reality they're out at night collecting millions from their friends in the entertainment industry who have no restraint in terms of the types of material they peddle to our kids."

Bush took his own swipes at Gore's tax plan and his credibility. The Texas governor said that his own tax plan is simple and would help all Americans, while the vice president's 10-year, nearly $500-billion tax cut "comes with a lot of fine print."

"I believe everybody that pays taxes ought to get tax relief," Bush said. "I don't believe in the rhetoric that [Gore] used at his own convention, when he said that only the 'right people' would get tax relief."

Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell disputed Bush's characterization and said the Texan's own plan mostly benefits the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers.

"It is unfortunate that George W. Bush believes that targeting the average, middle-class family for tax relief is wrong," Spell said.

Bush wasn't the only one questioning Gore's character on the campaign trail Monday. Flying from Austin to Little Rock, Karen Hughes, the Republican's communications director, read to reporters from a Boston Globe article that claims Gore "mangled the facts" when talking about prescription drugs.

The story said Gore told seniors in Florida "that his mother-in-law pays nearly three times as much for the same arthritis medicine used for his ailing dog, Shiloh." In addition, the story said, Gore aides last week couldn't say whether Shiloh or Margaret Ann Aitcheson takes Lodine.

Referring to Bush's frequent verbal missteps, Hughes said the Gore incident "is not a case of his pronunciation. This is a case of direct misstatement of fact. In that sense, it is far more serious . . . [and] underscores the fact that the vice president will do anything to get elected."

Cheney also jumped on the issue.

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