- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

EAST LANSING, Mich. Republican presidential rivals John McCain and George W. Bush belittled each other yesterday in a final round of caustic campaigning before today's primaries in Michigan and Arizona.
In Michigan, where polls show the two men in a statistical tie, Mr. McCain fired the first salvo by accusing the Texas governor of laying a false claim to the mantle of "reformer."
The Arizona senator credited Mr. Bush's former lieutenant governor, the late Bob Bullock, with achieving most of the accomplishments for which Mr. Bush has taken credit.
Mr. Bush laughed at the accusation but then told reporters in an icy response, "That's the Washington, D.C., mentality. You might want to explain to Senator McCain … that Bob Bullock thought I had done such a good job that he crossed party lines to endorse my candidacy. You need to ask Senator McCain why he's running the kind of campaign he's running."
Mr. Bush said of Mr. McCain's claim that he wants break the iron triangle of lobbyists, money and legislation: "He's been ringing that iron triangle like a dinner bell."
Meanwhile, the McCain campaign stepped up its effort to lure Democrats to the open primary by sending a flier assuring them: "Even if you vote in Tuesday's Republican primary, you can still participate in future Democratic Party political activity."
To bolster his case, Mr. McCain said on the campaign trail that "the whole thing of governing in America is not dividing up on party lines."
The McCain campaign yesterday also acknowledged a phone-poll transcript in which McCain volunteers are telling potential voters: "Here in Michigan, George Bush is already running a negative campaign on television. Don't be fooled by George Bush's negative smear campaign. Vote against negative smear politics. Vote for Senator John McCain."
The Bush campaign distributed a transcript of the call to reporters late Sunday; Bush officials again denied that their ads do anything more than to correct distortions of Mr. Bush's record by Mr. McCain.
Meanwhile, a recorded message phoned to Michigan voters attacks an official in Mr. McCain's campaign as "a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and would-be censors."
"John McCain refused to repudiate these words," adds broadcaster Pat Robertson in the message that was recorded yesterday by a Michigan man. Mr. Robertson's remarks refer to former Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, who is Mr. McCain's national campaign chairman.
The brief message does not mention Mr. Bush, and a Bush campaign spokeswoman denied any involvement.
Todd Harris, a McCain spokesman, did not accuse the Bush campaign of complicity, but said: "This is exactly the kind of politics that we had hoped we left behind in South Carolina.
Gene Kapp, a Robertson spokesman, confirmed that Mr. Robertson had recorded the message but said it had nothing to do with the Bush campaign.
"It was an issues-education call that was made on behalf of the Christian Coalition to members on the Christian Coalition list in Michigan," Mr. Kapp said last night. "It did not endorse or request a vote for a specific candidate."
Mr. Bush, still buoyed by his 11-point win Saturday in South Carolina, continued to set his sights on President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner.
Asked by reporters about Mr. Gore's recent comment that Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain are "morally blind" on racism, Mr. Bush replied: "Shame on him. Shame on him. What Vice President Gore loves to do is the typical Washington politics of calling people names. He likes the politics of personal destruction, and America is sick of it.
"America wants somebody to lift their spirits," Mr. Bush said. "I look forward to debating Vice President Gore. I look forward to challenging this kind of politics that's so stale and so negative."
Mr. Gore had made his comment about the Republican candidates over the Confederate battle flag that flies atop South Carolina's Statehouse. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain said during that state's campaign that they believe it is a state issue and they would not intervene in the dispute.
Meanwhile, Mr. McCain is focused only on Mr. Bush. But more and more, Mr. McCain sounds as if he is running against the Republican Party as much as against his rival.
"My party has lost its way, my party has become too much the prisoner of special interests," he told a rally in Traverse City yesterday. "We've lost the last two presidential elections; we've lost the last two congressional elections."
In appearances since his surprisingly large loss in South Carolina on Saturday, Mr. McCain has sounded increasingly alienated from the party establishment, which largely backs Mr. Bush.
He frequently tells audiences that he is engaged in a "revolution" or a "battle for the soul of the Republican Party."
Mr. McCain will need to win Michigan to hold any of the momentum he gained by his huge win in New Hampshire on Feb. 1. The pressure on the McCain campaign has been growing since his loss in South Carolina and is beginning to show on the candidate. Mr. McCain has veered between periods of intense energy and obvious fatigue in recent days.
At a rally in Grand Rapids late Sunday, for example, Mr. McCain prowled the stage with unusual vigor and spat out his words with a defiant glee. He challenged his opponents, particularly the tobacco industry, which has run ads criticizing his proposed 1998 tobacco regulation program.
"Come on down, you jerks," he said.
On the lighter side of the campaign trail, Mr. Bush stopped at the Hornung School in Brighton, Mich., where he met third-graders who were dressed as presidents in honor of Presidents Day.
Jaclyn Romero, 9, was costumed as Mr. Bush's father, former President George Bush. She wore a suit and a blue batting helmet with the letters "Y" and "B" for Yale baseball, where the former president played first base on the varsity.
"Come over here, George," Mr. Bush said to the girl.
After student Lauren Fendt recited a history of President John Adams, half of the only presidential father-and-son team in history, Mr. Bush told the girl, "There's a chance there may be another father and son."

Sean Scully, traveling with Mr. McCain in Michigan, contributed to this article, which was based in part on wire-service reports.

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