- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, pulling even with Vice President Al Gore in new polls after sharpening the attacks on Mr. Gore's integrity, today opens a multistate offensive that criticizes the Democratic candidate for failing America's students.
The Texas governor will visit public schools in Oregon, California and Michigan this week to highlight faltering U.S. test scores in math and to press his case for new leadership in education.
"There is an education recession in America," said Bush senior adviser Ari Fleischer.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, today begins airing a multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign in 17 hotly contested states that contends U.S. students "are last in the world" in math and physics under the Clinton administration. The new ad campaign credits Mr. Bush with improving student achievement in Texas through mandatory statewide testing.
Bush strategists are encouraged after a week in which Mr. Gore, who had been slowly increasing his lead in most polls, was sidetracked by questions about his honesty. The vice president was on the defensive about Hollywood fund raising, concocted details about his family's prescription drug costs and even a fib about being sung a union lullaby as a child.
Three weekend polls by Gallup, Newsweek and Fox TV showed the presidential race a statistical dead heat. Mr. Gore's lead in the Newsweek survey is now 3 percentage points, after he led by 14 points in the same survey only one week ago. The Gallup tracking poll has Mr. Bush in the lead by a single point; the Fox poll shows the two candidates tied.
"There's been a definite shift in the attitude among voters in the past week," Mr. Fleischer said in a conference call with reporters. "There is a growing sense of unease in the electorate with the vice president, his policies and his statements… . He keeps splitting hairs and cutting corners around the truth and he seems to keep doing it when then pressure's on."
The Bush spokesman said voters want a president who is "steely and principled." Referring to Mr. Gore's plea last week for President Clinton to release stockpiled oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to combat rising fuel prices, Mr. Fleischer said, "The American people … know politics when they see it."
Mr. Clinton subsequently agreed to release about 30 million barrels of crude oil, with the possibility of more to follow.
Mr. Gore, in a telephone conference call with reporters yesterday, discounted the latest polls.
"I don't believe in polls," Mr. Gore said. "I don't think they have much relevance to the race. People will vote on Nov. 7."
Mr. Bush has been fighting an uphill battle against the healthy economy, so his aides instead are tossing out the term "recession" to describe the stagnating educational system for which Mr. Bush blames the vice president. Bush campaign aides view education as one of their most important issues for trying to win over female voters who have been favoring Mr. Gore in surveys by more than 20 percentage points.
"Nothing's been done by this administration [on education] for the last eight years," Mr. Fleischer said. "The American people get the joke."
The Bush campaign argues that the administration has failed to either halt a slide or improve national test scores in reading, math and science. Mr. Bush also plans this week to make an issue of school safety, even though Republicans have taken most of the blame on that issue for resisting more gun regulations.
The Texas governor also will campaign only five days this week, despite his aides' earlier boast that he would be on the stump for six-day workweeks more often. He will return to Texas on Friday afternoon to begin preparing in earnest for the first of three debates with Mr. Gore on Oct. 3.
Mr. Fleischer said yesterday he considered it a "very serious matter" that a junior Gore campaign aide had been suspended for stating that he knew a "mole" in the Bush camp. A Gore adviser on Sept. 13 received a package from Austin, home to Bush campaign headquarters, containing a videotape of Mr. Bush preparing for the debates against Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, standing in for Mr. Gore.
The Gore campaign said Saturday that an internal review found no evidence that staffers had received or used confidential information from the Bush campaign. But Mr. Fleischer said the fact that a Gore campaign worker was suspended "is a very worrisome sign."
"There is now a question about whether the vice president's campaign will do anything to get elected," Mr. Fleischer said. He said Bush officials are "very pleased" that the FBI is investigating how the tape was mailed to the Gore adviser, former Rep. Thomas Downey of New York.

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