- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

EVERETT, Wash. In defiance of all national polls, Al Gore yesterday described George W. Bush "dead in the water" and accused the Texas governor of trying to "hold the ball, run out the clock and hide behind tracking polls."

"We have 15* days remaining before America makes a fateful decision," the vice president told several hundred supporters at an airport rally here. "Fifteen days is a long time if your objective is to hold the ball and run out the clock.

"Fifteen days is a long time if you are trying to hide behind tracking polls and not engage on the issues because the people disagree with you on the issues," Mr. Gore said. "That's the dilemma that my opponent faces in the next 15 days."

Mr. Gore took comfort in several tracking polls yesterday that showed a slight shrinkage of Mr. Bush's lead.

Although the vice president continued to insist he pays no attention to polls, he noticed the ones that moved, if ever so slightly, in his direction yesterday.

"You know what?" Mr. Gore told the audience. "Those tracking polls have a way of kind of closing up and getting closer and closer."

When a local TV reporter asked him whether he was worried about the polls, he replied: "I am not. I have to admit that I am tempted, now that all of them show me with the momentum and the other guy dead in the water, to change my view and say, 'Oh, the polls have more significance.'

"But I am going to resist because I don't think so much should be made of the polls."

Mr. Gore said he believes he can make gains in the polls by promising to leave U.S. troops in Bosnia and Kosovo indefinitely. He is savaging Mr. Bush for proposing to gradually bring home American soldiers.

Asked about the issue by The Washington Times, Mr. Gore ratcheted up his rhetoric by implying the Texas governor's policy might cause war in Europe.

"I think that Governor Bush has made a reckless proposal when he says that he would withdraw our contributions to the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans," the vice president told The Times late Sunday aboard Air Force Two. "The reason that is such a misguided idea, in my opinion, is that the history of the last 50 years and especially the last seven or eight years shows that without U.S. leadership, NATO has a hard time acting."

Mr. Gore said phasing out U.S. troops, who now comprise 20 percent of peacekeeping forces in the Balkans, would mean America would "lose our ability to provide leadership in NATO."

"Now, without U.S. leadership, NATO would face the risk of collapse over time," he said. "And without NATO, the peace in Europe that has been taken for granted for more than half a century now would over time be at risk.

"I don't think that's an overstatement in any way, shape or form. So his proposal that would radically diminish American influence in Europe for the first time since the end of World War II I think is quite ill-advised."

Mr. Gore was reminded that when he and President Clinton sent U.S. troops into Bosnia in 1995, he promised to bring them home within one year. Five years later, the American mission remains open-ended, with no timetable for withdrawal.

"We've sharply reduced the number of American troops there," the vice president replied. "By far, the majority of the troops are now Europeans. And the administration readily acknowledged that the initial estimates of how long that would take had to be extended."

While Mr. Bush is not yet ready to put a specific timetable on troop withdrawals, Mr. Gore felt strongly in 1996 that American soldiers should stay in the Balkans no longer than one year.

Yet now he is slamming Mr. Bush for suggesting troops be brought home at all, calling such a policy isolationist.

During a 1996 appearance on CBS' "Meet the Press," Mr. Gore was asked whether U.S. troops still would leave Bosnia by the end of the year.

"Yes," the vice president said. "We believe their mission will be completed by end of this year."

Mr. Gore went on to say that "we're not anticipating" any extension of the Bosnian deployment.

In resurrecting the issue over the last few days, Mr. Gore has given no timetable of his own for a withdrawal from the Balkans, or even said whether U.S. troops should come home at all. Instead, he has tried to keep the focus on his opponent's position, characterizing it as amateurish and reckless.

Later, the vice president attacked Mr. Bush in unusually strong terms, implying that the Texas governor bears some responsibility for the dragging death of a black man.

"It was his state where James Byrd was dragged to death behind a pickup truck," Mr. Gore said.

Texas courts convicted three white men of the grisly murder. Two of the men, both avowed white supremacists, were sentenced to death. The third received life in prison.

But Mr. Bush was not the only one the vice president was fighting as he hopscotched across Washington and Oregon yesterday.

Polls saw Green Party candidate Ralph Nader winning 6 percent or more of the vote in the Pacific Northwest, turning a tradi-

tionally Democratic region into a prospective windfall for the Republican nominee.

"Toward the end of the election, it is still likely the vast majority of the people will want to cast a vote that will decide the future of the country," Mr. Gore said.

"My task is not to tell those people that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush," he added. "That may be true, but my task is to convince them to vote enthusiastically for me."

Not everyone was happy to see Mr. Gore when he stopped yesterday at a Portland coffee shop.

Mert Meeker, a commercial real estate broker who was sitting at a table about five feet away from the vice president, was clearly unimpressed.

"I'm a Bush supporter," Mr. Meeker said. "Gore is part of an administration that's talked about a lot of change for eight years but hasn't got much done."

Mr. Meeker, 41, said he suspected that if the election were held today, "Oregon would go for Gore, albeit barely." But he added the overriding sentiment he discerns is apathy.

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