AUSTIN, Texas George W. Bush rallied Hispanic voters in California long-distance yesterday on the eve of his 17th visit to the once-Democratic state that Republicans say is slipping from Al Gore’s grasp in the campaign’s final days.
“While my opponent has been busy counting the votes of California, I’ve been working hard to earn them,” Mr. Bush told Latino leaders via satellite from Texas. “Vice President Gore has been taking California for granted and hasn’t even been there since way back in September.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We are going to win the state of California.”
Mr. Bush will visit California today for the 10th time since he emerged as the front-runner after the Republican primaries in March. Recent polls have shown the vice president’s double-digit lead plummeting to as low as five percentage points.
The Gore campaign, after pleading from top California Democrats, reluctantly enlisted President Clinton to campaign in the state this week to boost his protege’s flagging numbers.
“The vice president is under pressure in California and his lead is diminishing and is at risk of vanishing,” said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
As the Texas governor girds for the final frantic week of campaigning coast to coast, Republicans are mounting an unprecedented grass-roots effort to win back the White House, including millions of mailings and a galaxy of Republican stars who will hit the trail this week.
Mr. Bush’s parents, former President George Bush and wife Barbara, will campaign separately in battleground states. Also stumping for the Texas governor will be the party’s 1996 nominee, former Sen. Bob Dole; his wife, Elizabeth; Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and actress Bo Derek.
While those Republican luminaries rally voters, the GOP will blitz the party faithful and undecided with what Mr. Fleischer yesterday called “the largest-ever Republican grass-roots activities in the history of Republican presidential campaigns.”
By Election Day, Mr. Fleischer said, the Bush campaign and the Republican National Committee will have placed 62 million telephone calls, mailed 110 million individual campaign fliers, distributed 16.5 million other “drops” of campaign literature, delivered 1.2 million yard signs and 1.5 million bumper stickers.
“Every day matters,” Mr. Bush said yesterday. “The outcome will be determined precinct by precinct. In a race like this, everything we do matters.”
Hoping to set an appealing tone to sway undecided voters, the Bush campaign is promising to take the high road until Election Day and is calling attention to what it says are Mr. Gore’s increasingly negative and bitter attacks.
For example, backers of Mr. Gore were responsible for recorded phone messages targeting voters in Michigan last week that suggested Mr. Bush was responsible for the death of an elderly man in a nursing home.
“It brought presidential politics to an unprecedented low,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We don’t campaign the way Al Gore does.”
“It will backfire on the vice president,” Mr. Fleischer added. “The governor is leading in every single national [poll]. That’s a very healthy trend going into this last week, and I think that’s why, frankly, the vice president is now throwing every negative kitchen sink he can find.
“He has authorized his surrogates to take the campaign to new lows. The American people do not like that type of campaigning and they do not like that type of phone call.”
Bush advisers said the Gore phone calls are another example that Mr. Gore is losing the race and knows it.
They also pointed to Mr. Gore’s comments Friday night in an interview with a Philadelphia television station in which Mr. Gore, previously a supporter of lawsuits by cities against gun manufacturers, backtracked on the issue.
“That’s up to local communities,” Mr. Gore said when asked if he would support such litigation as president.
Mr. Fleischer said yesterday the comment showed why Democrats are not as enthusiastic in their support of Mr. Gore as they were for President Clinton.
“This is a classic illustration of the vice president’s flip-flopping on issues that principled Democrats care very deeply about,” Mr. Fleischer said. “It’s why people in his party really question whether they can trust the vice president to be consistent, to be a steady leader.
“That’s one of the reasons why Ralph Nader’s campaign has the legs that it has. There really is a yearning in the Democratic Party for a principled leader and they haven’t seen one in a while.”
Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush will visit California this week to appear on the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. Mr. Bush’s appearance on the show is set for tonight.
Mr. Bush will be joined in California this week by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and his wife. Mr. McCain lost the Republican primary to Mr. Bush, with California delivering the final blow to his presidential hopes.
The Texas governor yesterday told the Latino leaders that his state campaign has grown to 310 county and local headquarters.
“Twenty-five thousand volunteers have joined our cause,” Mr. Bush said. “They’ve delivered two million pieces of literature door to door. They’ve made a million and a half phone calls, and handed out two hundred thousand yard signs and a quarter-million bumper stickers. I’m so grateful for this effort. I’m coming your way in person to kick off the final week on the road to victory.”
Of the vice president taking the state for granted, Mr. Bush said, “I hear he’s going to rush in at the last minute.” The Texan called himself “one candidate who has never lost sight of the importance of California.”
The Clinton-Gore ticket won the state in 1992 and 1996, claiming its 54 electoral votes and using it as a springboard to overall victory.