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Bush Puts His Focus on Energy

Republicans: Governor blames the administration for high prices, saying he would pressure foreign producers. He warns of a danger to U.S. prosperity.


AUSTIN, Texas — George W. Bush shifted the focus of his presidential campaign on Wednesday from education to the high cost of electricity, gasoline and heating oil.

The Republican candidate blamed the Clinton administration for high oil prices and said he would do a better job of leaning on foreign producers to increase supplies.

Bush, who has tried to raise doubts this week about the economy's outlook under Democratic control, also warned that energy troubles could undermine the nation's prosperity.

"I think it is a threat, and I think it's a real problem," the Texas governor said on CNN's "Moneyline."

Bush renewed his call to build more refineries and power plants and to allow oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

"We ought to open up those potential vast reserves, and I know we can do so in an environmentally friendly way," he said.

Last week, President Clinton ordered the release of 30 million barrels of oil from the nation's emergency stockpile a day after Vice President Al Gore called for such a move to lower oil prices.

Bush has sharply attacked the release as a stunt to win votes, especially in the Midwest, where prices have surged this summer. Bush plans to announce new energy proposals of his own on Friday in Michigan.

Gore campaign spokesman Jano Cabrera responded to Bush's remarks by reviving charges that the governor, a former oil executive, would favor the industry over consumers.

"I just don't think that the American people are honestly going to believe a former Texas oilman, whose campaign has been largely fueled by big oil, will stand up for them the next time gas prices spike," he said.

Bush's remarks, taped Tuesday, were broadcast Wednesday evening after he concluded a California campaign swing at a Catholic school in South-Central Los Angeles.

Bush toured the Catholic Ascension School on 111th Street with Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and then spoke to teachers and students gathered on the playground.

"I appreciate so very much the discipline of the Catholic school system around America, the fact that the standards are high, and the expectations are high, and there is a zero-tolerance program for disruption," Bush said. "It's a system that fully understands that for all children to learn, that classrooms need to be safe havens."

Alongside Bush and Mahony was Alfredo Perez, the fifth-grade teacher who in 1996 was struck by a bullet fired into his classroom as he was teaching at a nearby public school, the Figueroa Street School.

Since then, the two schools have joined forces in running school safety programs. Bush touted the joint programs as the kind of collaboration between government and faith-based organizations that he wants to expand.

With after-school programs, he said, it makes sense to "invite people of faith and goodwill and good heart into helping children understand that somebody cares and somebody loves them."

Mahony, who opened the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles last month with an invocation, also called for more public support of joint programs with private schools.

"We know of the governor's great commitment to quality, excellent education," Mahony told the crowd. "And we know that he's also interested in helping the private parochial schools be partners with public education so that we have this real sense of a common vision in the education of all of our children."

Beyond education, the main point of Bush's two-day trip to California was to raise money for the Republican Party. Gerald Parsky, who heads his California campaign, said Bush yielded more than $1.5 million for the party at events in Silicon Valley and Beverly Hills.

Polls have consistently shown Gore with a comfortable lead in California, but Bush on Wednesday brushed them aside.

"I think I can do well here in the state of California," Bush said as he left the school. "Watch what happens on Nov. 7."

Meanwhile, a Bush aide said the candidate's campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh, spoke Tuesday to FBI Director Louis J. Freeh about the pilfered video of Bush's debate preparations.

Allbaugh told him "we want to find out who took our debate materials," said Bush communications director Karen Hughes.

Freeh "couldn't tell us much, but he said that he considered it an important matter," she said.

Allbaugh expressed concern that details of the investigation had appeared in the press. He told Freeh "that he felt it was wrong and inappropriate for the powers that be in Washington to be leaking information," Hughes said.

Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, also focused on education Wednesday as he campaigned at a high school in Sharon Hill, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.

The school appearance followed Cheney's private meeting with Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, in which the two men discussed education, campaign officials said. Cheney then flew to Washington, where he was to speak at a Senate Republican fund-raiser.


Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

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