- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

WARREN, Mich. The Gore-Lieberman campaign yesterday escalated its assault on George W. Bush's qualifications, charging the Texas governor is not prepared to be president.

"It is the most important, complicated, powerful position in government in the world. All of us in the U.S. and a lot of people around the world depend on it," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman said on ABC's "This Week" program.

"Based on Governor Bush's experience, his record in Texas, which is not good on environment, health care, education and based on his plans for the country which I'm confident would take us into debt and cripple our economy I don't think George Bush is ready to be president of the United States," the Connecticut senator said.

The Gore campaign, worried that voters prefer Mr. Bush's personality, focused on experience yesterday, hoping Americans will weigh the vice president's 24 years of government service against Mr. Bush's six years as governor.

"It's not 'The Dating Game,' " Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper, said during a rally at McComb County Community College in Warren, Mich. "You don't have to fall in love with Al Gore I did that," she said.

"I know that people are going to weigh experience," and choose "somebody who understands foreign policy, somebody who understands how to keep the economy going," Mrs. Gore said. "That's who we want in our president."

Mr. Lieberman appeared on a round of network news shows from Dearborn, Mich., where Mr. Gore, Mr. Lieberman and their wives embarked on a two-day "Great Lakes Prosperity Tour," a bus trip of Michigan and Wisconsin. In both states, the Democrats are battling Green Party nominee Ralph Nader as well as Mr. Bush.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," Mr. Lieberman said: "I don't think he is ready to be the kind of president that the American people need and I do think, on the other hand, Al Gore is."

Michigan Gov. John Engler, a Republican, refuted Mr. Lieberman's charge yesterday afternoon as Mr. Gore prepared to address a throng at the Central Clock Tower in East Lansing.

"I think it is a desperation attack by Senator Lieberman," Mr. Engler told reporters traveling with Mr. Gore.

"This is a reprise of 1980," Mr. Engler said. "They tried this against Reagan and claimed that the two terms as California governor didn't qualify him to be president. Now this is almost the same words coming back this time against Governor Bush. I don't think it's going to work."

Mr. Bush does not need to personally counter the charges or to run ads to counter the attack, Mr. Engler said. Last week, Mr. Bush mobilized more than 25 Republican governors who testified to his experience and abilities.

Mr. Gore shares Mr. Lieberman's assessment, but he is leaving the explicit attack to Mr. Lieberman and other surrogates.

As Mr. Gore flew from Minneapolis to Detroit late Saturday night, reporters asked the vice president about the New York Times' endorsement of him. The editorial questioned Mr. Bush's experience.

"I haven't said that because I don't think it's my place to say that," Mr. Gore told reporters. "I haven't said that I believe it because I don't think it's my place to say I believe it."

But Mr. Gore pointedly added: "I will say that my already high estimation of the New York Times has risen even further."

Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett said Americans will reject the Gore campaign's "absurd argument" that Mr. Bush is not ready to be president.

"This campaign began on negative attacks and it's obviously going to end on negative attacks," Mr. Bartlett said.

"It's an absurd argument," Mr. Bartlett added. "The American people have had the opportunity for the last year to study the governor's record and his proposals for America and they responded to it. They are not going to buy this nonsense by the Gore campaign."

The attack on Mr. Bush's experience came as Mr. Gore, Mr. Lieberman and their spouses set out on a two-day bus trip that they hope will capture voters' imaginations as the Clinton-Gore bus tour did following the Democratic convention in 1992.

But Mr. Nader threatens to cause Democratic heartache in the heartland.

The veteran consumer advocate is taking 5 percent of the vote in recent Michigan polls. That could be enough to push Michigan's 18 electoral votes to the Republican.

Mr. Engler believes Mr. Nader's polling numbers in Michigan are inflated.

"I've never felt it was such of a factor here," Mr. Engler said. "We've not, certainly, from a Bush perspective, counted on Nader to help us win Michigan," he said.

But Mr. Engler expects a tight battle in Michigan Nov. 7.

"I won by 17,000 votes in 1990," Mr. Engler said. "I'd take that."

Mr. Nader clearly is worrying Democrats. During the rally at McComb County Community College, Rep. David E. Bonior cracked that the Texas governor might vote for Mr. Nader because "a vote for Mr. Nader is as good as a vote for Bush."

Mr. Gore had campaigned in another Nader stronghold late Saturday night. He addressed at least 10,000 supporters in downtown Minneapolis, fighting for a state where Mr. Nader took 8 percent of the vote in a recent poll.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, a liberal Minnesota Democrat, made a direct appeal to Mr. Nader's backers. Mr. Wellstone said he and Mr. Nader have stood together on "just about every single issue."

But Mr. Wellstone said "it would be a horrible, horrible irony if a vote for Ralph Nader meant that George W. Bush became president of the United States. It is too dear a price to pay for our country."

Mr. Gore appealed for support across the ideological spectrum.

"I'd like to say to all of the independents who are joining with Democrats and independently minded Republicans, Reform Party members, Green Party members, you are all welcome," Mr. Gore said at the Minneapolis rally.

Aboard Air Force II late Saturday night, Mr. Gore deflected a question about the Nader factor.

"Look, I think that at the end of the day, most people will decide to probably participate in the main choice," and vote for Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush, the vice president said.

"But I'm not taking a single vote for granted."

Mr. Gore told reporters on the plane he is not dismayed at polls that show him trailing Mr. Bush.

"State polls are coming in very favorably," Mr. Gore said. "I don't really pay much attention to the polls."

He laughed and added, "I do happen to know what they all say."

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