Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush acknowledges the crowd after being introduced Friday at Kalamazoo Christian High School in Kalamazoo, Mich. (AP photo)
Tough talk as close race nears climax
By Sandra Sobieraj, Associated Press, 10/27/00CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Al Gore and George W. Bush traded accusations of dirty politics Friday in a campaign tug-of-war stretching from West Virginia to Michigan.
The West Coast was in play, too, as the presidential contest spanned the country with a week and a half left before the election. Gore planned a late dash to California, which he had assumed was a certain win.
Most national polls late in the week gave Bush an edge, but the fight for electoral votes in closely contested states was intense.
In a rally on the steps of the West Virginia state Capitol, Gore, who is trailing Republican Bush by 10 points in this traditionally Democratic state, sounded indignant about that situation and jokingly appealed to TV star and sometimes-pitchman Bill Cosby:
"All I ask is that you do for me what you did for Jell-O!"
Gore said that Bush's running mate Dick Cheney voted 18 times as a congressman from Wyoming against increasing black lung benefits to coal miners. "You want somebody who understands, coming from part of Appalachia," Gore asserted to a predominantly union crowd.
He said his Tennessee farm is "on the edge of Appalachia" and the district he represented in the House included coal miners. "I have spent many a Saturday night in a small courthouse filling out forms related to black lung."
Bush, whose first campaign stop was at a Battle Creek laundry that handles 70,000 pounds of dirty uniforms every week, railed against the Democratic Party's recorded messages now coming into Michigan voters' phones.
One says Texas Gov. Bush weakened nursing home regulation, another that he gave carte blanche to polluters back home. In a third, no longer being used, actor Ed Asner warns that Bush's privatization plan for Social Security would "undermine" the retirement program.
"You can forget all the phone calls that are coming into this state trying to scare people," Bush said at a rally inside the sweltering gymnasium of Kalamazoo Christian High School.
At his side, Gov. John Engler accused Gore of sponsoring "some of the scummiest calls that have ever been made in politics."
Gore's deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani said the calls were "completely factual" and would continue.
In turn, the Gore camp decried a new GOP attack ad modeled after the "Daisy" commercial that President Johnson used in 1964. The ad -- showing a girl plucking daisy petals and counting down to a nuclear blast -- accuses President Clinton and Gore of trading nuclear technology to China for campaign contributions.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane called the ad, funded by a mysterious group urging viewers to vote Republican, "dirty tricks" by "the hidden hand of the right wing."
Bush strategist Karl Rove urged that the commercial be pulled off the air.
Gore warned voters generally against Republicans using "misleading advertisements on the TV screen every few minutes to try to make you think that up is down and black is white and outside is inside."
California's top prize of 54 electoral votes was suddenly thrown into the presidential mix by polls showing Gore's solid lead there had shrunk to between 5 and 7 percentage points.
Gore, who hasn't been in California since Sept. 20 and hadn't planned to return, scheduled a stop there next week. He would appear Tuesday on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and at a Los Angeles-area campaign event, spokesman Mark Fabiani said.
Gore's late-scheduled appearance bumped actor Martin Sheen from Leno's headlining guest spot. Sheen plays the president on TV's "West Wing" and stars in anti-Bush TV commercials for gun control advocates.
Fabiani said Gore is still confident he's got California and "we're not going to be in the state that long."
Bush doubled his California ad effort and was returning for a campaign visit Monday and Tuesday with Sen. John McCain at his side.
Florida, where Bush is unexpectedly in a tight race despite his brother's gubernatorial power there, and Oregon were also confirmed stops on Gore's schedule in the final week before Election Day.
Cheney headlined the Republican bid for West Virginia's mere five electoral votes, telling workers at a beleaguered Weirton steel mill that Bush will "swiftly and firmly" enforce trade laws to fight dumping of cheaper steel imports -- an issue that has put the Clinton-Gore administration at odds with steelworkers.
"There should be no more looking the other way so that politics can triumph over principles," Cheney said.
Cosby, comedian and Philadelphia native, accompanied Gore on two stops in western Pennsylvania, where Gore has a whisker lead over Bush. At the Carnegie Library outside Pittsburgh, Gore promised "a simple approach to the Internet economy: Government should keep its hands off."
Running mate Joseph Lieberman chipped away at the Green Party threat from Ralph Nader, pleading with Oregon and Washington voters: "Think about if you wake up Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, and George Bush is our president-elect because you voted for Nader. ... Is that what you want to have happen?"
Thinking along those lines, the Republican Leadership Council will begin airing TV ads promoting Nader on Monday.