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Bush Goes on Offensive to Woo Florida Voters

Politics: The Republican tells seniors that, unlike his rival Gore, he'll keep his promises. He also vows to fund a 'medical moonshot.'


SARASOTA, Fla. — George W. Bush swept into Florida on Friday, hammering at his Democratic rival's credibility and vowing he will win this hotly contested state because its residents "don't want flip-floppers as the president of the United States."

Vice President Al Gore and the Clinton administration have broken more than a decade of promises to ensure that senior citizens--a large and influential population here--have prescription drug coverage, Bush charged at an airport rally.

And Gore has changed his mind about whether the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve should be tapped to help ease the current spike in energy prices, Bush declared.

"The people of Florida do not want four more years of double talk," he said in the sweltering sunshine, "four more years of saying one thing and meaning another, four more years of flipping positions, depending upon the polls."

Bush also reiterated his commitment to funding medical research, telling more than 1,000 seniors at the Sun City Center retirement community that the government must help fight all diseases--in particular those that afflict the elderly, such as osteoporosis, Parkinson's, arthritis and Alzheimer's.

"As president, I will fund and lead a medical moonshot to reach far beyond what seems possible today and discover new cures for age-old afflictions," Bush promised.

The day-and-a-half swing through Florida--a state that should be solidly in his corner but where the race is now neck and neck--is Bush's 10th since the end of the primary season.

It also marks the end of his "metaphor of life" tour--a weeklong campaign trip designed to showcase how the Republican's policies will affect Americans from the cradle to the grave.

At each stop, his campaign has distributed pamphlets called "Blueprint for the Middle Class," which Friday did double duty as much-needed fans in the senior center, where television lights heated up the amphitheater and glinted off the eyeglasses of hundreds of residents.

Bush was promoting his plan to double federal funding for the National Institutes of Health to $27.3 billion by 2003. An additional $12 billion would go to "renew the war on cancer" begun nearly 30 years ago under then-President Nixon, Bush said.

Over 10 years, funding for the NIH and cancer research would reach $67 billion under the Bush plan.

"While the budget for the NIH has increased in recent years," Bush said, "too many promising projects go unfunded and unexplored. Almost three-fourths of the research proposals sent to the NIH do not receive funding."

Gore officials were quick to dismiss Bush's proposal as a mirror of their own candidate's plans. In June in Philadelphia, Gore also promised to double research funds and called for a new war on cancer. Both candidates have also invoked relatives who died of cancer--Gore's only sister of lung cancer, Bush's younger sister of leukemia--to convince voters of their dedication to the cause.

Dr. David A. Kessler, former chief of the Food and Drug Administration in the George Bush administration, questioned whether the younger Bush's proposed budget would have room for the additional proposed spending.

"There's some concern there's a false promise," said Kessler, now dean of the Yale School of Medicine and a Gore supporter.

Bush's proposal was warmly received at Sun City Center by the seniors, who also cheered his $1.3-trillion, 10-year tax cut plan and his proposals to strengthen Social Security and the military and grant prescription drug coverage under Medicare.

In a question-and-answer period after the medical research speech, one woman asked, "Are you going to have a big enough shovel to clean up Washington?"

And a local Veterans of Foreign Wars official proclaimed: "We want to thank you for being the first person on this campaign that thought about the veterans, the real people that made this country."

And the crowd rose slowly to its feet, applauding, and the candidate beamed.


Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

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