MIAMI The top strategist for George W. Bush predicted yesterday that he will win tomorrow with close to 320 electoral votes as his candidate flew across Florida on the final day of the 16-month campaign and received all but an endorsement from the Rev. Billy Graham.
Mr. Bush’s chief political strategist, Karl Rove, said his analysis shows the Texas governor winning on Tuesday with “in the vicinity of 320 electoral votes.”
The winner must get a minimum of 270 of the 538 electoral votes.
Mr. Rove, armed with a sheaf of private “internal” polls, told The Washington Times that he expected the governor to poll “50 to 51 [percent] vs. 44, 45 percent” for Vice President Al Gore.
Mr. Bush campaigned in five cities in Florida yesterday with his brother, Jeb, the state’s Republican governor, and New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. Some polls in the state have shown Mr. Gore with a slight lead, and despite public predictions of victory by Mr. Bush here, Mr. Rove was also talking about a game plan for winning that does not involve Florida.
“I sure like what I see all over the country coming down the stretch,” Mr. Bush told a crowd of about 2,000 supporters yesterday in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Mr. Bush met yesterday with Mr. Graham, spiritual adviser to several past presidents, who spoke glowingly of Mr. Bush.
“I have been praying for this crucial election,” he said. “I’ve been praying that God’s will shall be done. I don’t endorse candidates. But I’ve come as close to it, I guess, now as any time in my life, because I think it’s extremely important.”
Mr. Graham, appearing frail but speaking with emphasis, said Tuesday’s vote is “a critical election in the history of America.”
“We have in our state absentee voting I’ve already voted,” said Mr. Graham, a resident of North Carolina. “I’ll just let you guess who I voted for. And my family the same way. And we believe there’s going to be a tremendous victory and change by Tuesday night in the direction of the country putting it in good hands. I believe in the integrity of this man. I’ve known him as a boy, I’ve known him as a young man. And we’re very proud of him.”
Mr. Bush called Mr. Graham a “major influence on my life.”
“He’s obviously one of the great Americans,” Mr. Bush said, his eyes welling with tears. “It’s comforting to be with a close friend and to have coffee and prayer as we begin the final stretch of the campaign to be the president.”
Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary yesterday. Of the couple, Mr. Graham said: “It’s worth getting him the White House to get her in the White House. If they, by God’s will, win, I’m going to do everything in my power to help them make it a successful presidency.”
The Texas governor said of his wife: “Never did she dream when she said ‘I do’ 23 years ago that we’d be campaigning to be the president and first lady of the United States.”
The Republican’s top aides are trying hard not to appear overconfident, but it’s proving difficult. Mr. Rove yesterday greeted reporters at breakfast at their hotel, flitting from table to table with a pot of coffee and pouring cups with a flourish. “Can I get you juice or a biscuit?” he asked.
Campaign chairman and Bush confidant Don Evans, asked by The Washington Times for his prediction of Mr. Bush’s electoral vote total, said “It’s going to be a solid win low to mid-300s, that’s where I think it’s going to be. I’m talking to people in all the battleground states and they’ve never seen the enthusiasm we’re seeing right now.”
But Mr. Evans cautioned that Republicans must carry through with their turnout effort for the next 48 hours. “We’ve got to finish on Tuesday,” he said. “We need every vote. We’re not taking anything for granted. We’re going to have a ground game the likes of which people have never seen before.”
The trip to Florida yesterday was Mr. Bush’s 10th since the Republican National Convention in August. The state that was once assumed safe for Mr. Bush due to his brother’s governorship has been leaning slightly toward Mr. Gore in polls as the Democratic candidate hammers away on the theme that Mr. Bush would threaten Social Security benefits and prescription drug plans.
Mr. Bush warned audiences in Florida to ignore his opponent’s “ugly phone calls and fake TV ads.”
“We’re going to send a message loud and clear,” Mr. Bush said. “We’re going to reject the politics of scaring people.”
Mr. Rove also lashed out at Mr. Gore’s comment on Saturday that suggested Mr. Bush would appoint such conservative justices to the Supreme Court that it would take the nation back to the days of slavery.
“I thought it was reprehensible,” Mr. Rove said. “It shows how the two campaigns are ending, with the Gore campaign desperate and making those outrageous charges, pitting race against race, class against class, generation against generation. You cannot hope to govern America if you’re trying to win by this kind of ugliness and divisiveness.”
Retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf told thousands of Bush supporters last night at a rally in Tampa that the Clinton administration has lied to the public about the state of military readiness.
“I’m very, very worried that the people in our current administration say our military readiness is wonderful and we don’t need to do anything,” Gen. Schwarzkopf said. “That was one great big lie we had to set aside.”
The Democrats’ second lie, he said, was that Mr. Bush will cut Social Security benefits.
“They’re calling up all the senior Americans all over the country and particularly here in Florida and telling them if George W. Bush becomes president they’re going to lose their benefits. Let’s wage a counterattack of the truth. I’m sick and tired of hearing people lie to me.”
Mr. Bush was helped on the campaign trail yesterday by his brother, Jeb; nephew George P. Bush and Mr. Giuliani. “I trust my little brother,” Mr. Bush said. “When he looked me in the eye and said Florida is going to be Bush-Cheney country, I believed him.”
He told an overflow crowd of several thousand at Florida International University in Miami that he will make a priority of bringing democracy to Cuba.
“We will keep the pressure on Fidel Castro until the people are free,” Mr. Bush said. “Our greatest export in the world is freedom.”
Mr. Giuliani spoke at a synagogue on Saturday on behalf of Mr. Bush and told reporters yesterday he has met many New Yorkers in Florida who support Mr. Bush.
Mr. Rove, too, seemed to discount the Florida electoral votes as crucial yesterday. “There are lots of different ways for us to get to 270 [electoral votes] because we have a bigger base.”
He said the campaign is counting on winning 100 electoral votes in the West and 98 to 123 in the South, and 33 in Ohio and Indiana.
The Bush campaign is also targeting six states that voted for Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 Washington, Oregon, Iowa, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Mr. Bush returns to Wisconsin and Iowa today, with stops en route home in Tennessee, Mr. Gore’s native state, and finally, in the last stop of his campaign in Arkansas, the home state of the president. Both states are believed to be leaning toward the governor, but it’s close.