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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Slings Oil Issue at GOP Rivals

September 23, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VANPORT, Pa. — Sensing a welling of voter anger over rising oil prices, Vice President Al Gore sought Friday to tar his opponents as "apologists for big oil."

On the day that the Clinton administration announced that it was taking the very step Gore had recommended Thursday--the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve--the Democratic presidential candidate visited a community where residents, paying double what they paid a year ago for home heating oil, have grown deeply fearful of the approaching winter.

Gore did not mention his Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, by name. He didn't need to. A member of the audience at a meeting hall of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did it for him. Since Bush was a "big oilman," said Ramona Wachter, a former Texan, he "isn't going to do too much" about rising gas prices.

"No comment," Gore said, after a strategic pause.

Bush, however, took immediate issue with the idea of tapping the petroleum reserve. "The Strategic Petroleum Reserve should not be used as a short-term political fix for somebody whose administration has been asleep at the switch," he said at an airport rally in Sarasota, Fla.

Bush has said the gas crisis could be addressed by more aggressive negotiations with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and opening up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Gore said the best way to gain leverage against OPEC is to expand the United States' use of renewable energy resources, such as wind power. He opposes drilling in the Arctic refuge.

Gore, looking to justify the release of oil, said, "I've been a part of the discussions on strategic reserve since the days when it was first established. . . ." It was unclear what role, however, he played, because the reserve was established in 1975, before he was first elected to Congress.

Meanwhile, aides to Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, rebutted an assertion made by the Gore campaign that Cheney, as a former CEO and current stockholder of an oil firm, would profit from higher oil prices. Gore's camp cited an April 1999 quote from Cheney, which appeared to praise OPEC after the Middle East cartel tightened oil supplies.

"I'm struck by the extent that OPEC has gotten its act together," Cheney had said.

Cheney's aides said he was only expressing surprise that OPEC's oil ministers were cooperating with each other again. He was not praising the cartel for restricting oil supplies, they said. At the time, Cheney was concerned that the price of oil was too low and was unsustainable, his campaign said.

On Friday, Gore also defended himself against accusations that he exaggerates his accomplishments and embellishes his resume.

Holding his first news conference since July 17, Gore addressed two examples of hyperbole: his claim that his mother sang him a union advertising jingle as a lullaby and his assertion that the price his family paid for his mother-in-law's arthritis drug was about three times the amount paid for his dog's same medication.

Gore said the quip about the jingle, written when he was 27 years old, was a joke he has told repeatedly. If the humor was missed, he said, "maybe I better tell better jokes."

As for the medication anecdote, which turned out to be inaccurate, he said, "I'm not talking about my mother-in-law anymore; I may talk about my dog some more."

Gore had cited figures showing his mother-in-law's medication was more expensive than the canine equivalent, but he later conceded those numbers came from a congressional study.

*

Times staff writers Megan Garvey and Maria L. La Ganga contributed to this story.

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