- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

NAPERVILLE, Ill. Texas Gov. George W. Bush opened his post-Labor Day campaign for the presidency yesterday in Midwest battleground states and accused Vice President Al Gore of going back on his word to debate him any time, anywhere.
"We had an interesting example of Washington double-speak [on Sunday]," Mr. Bush said. "My opponent said he would debate me anyplace, any time, anywhere. I said, 'Fine, why don't we just show up with [Tim] Russert as a moderator, or with Larry King, and discuss our differences?' But now, all of a sudden, the words about 'any time, anywhere' don't mean anything."
As he began the frantic 64-day push to Election Day, Mr. Bush said Mr. Gore is engaging in Clintonian word-twisting by backing away from his promise to debate the Republican nominee in any format.
The Gore campaign Sunday night rejected Mr. Bush's offer to hold three debates, including one moderated by Mr. Russert of NBC on Sept. 12 and another hosted by Mr. King of CNN.
Mr. Bush instead proposed two less-formal debates and one by the Commission on Presidential Debates. When the Gore camp immediately rejected his offer, the Republican said Mr. Gore was dodging face-to-face encounters.
While both campaigns acknowledge that most voters are not concerned with the debate over the debates, each side has tried in the past two weeks to gain the upper hand in publicity as they vie for formats that favor their own styles.
Mr. Gore last week agreed to three debates to be hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has sponsored such contests since 1992. Mr. Bush must accept those three debates as a precondition for any further appearances, Mr. Gore said.
Gore campaign manager William M. Daley said Mr. Gore was not backing off his "any time" challenge and held out the chance of a debateless campaign.
"We will do those," he said. "We will do 'Meet the Press.' We will do Larry King. We've been waiting for them to say they would do anything for seven months now."
Asked if he thought the standoff might actually result in no debates at all, he said: "It's up to them. If they want to have universally broadcast debates that all the networks have agreed to do, they can very easily do it.
"The bottom line is if there's no debates, the American people will make a judgment who decided there shouldn't be debates," he said. "Al Gore's been out there calling for debates for nine months… . I think the American people would very quickly make up their minds who stiffed the debates if there are no debates."
But Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said there will be no debates only if Mr. Gore fails to show.
"We'll be there next Tuesday [on Mr. Russert's show]," she told reporters. "We only hope he'll be there."
Mr. Daley said he would contact the debate commission today in hopes of arranging a meeting.
Mr. Bush cited the quarrels as another demonstration of a character flaw on Mr. Gore's part.
"It's time to get some plain-spoken folks in Washington," Mr. Bush told more than 1,000 flag-waving supporters at his Naperville rally. "It's time to elect people who say what they mean and mean what they say. It's time to get rid of all those words like 'no controlling legal authority.' When we tell you we're going to do something, we're going to do what we say. That's what America hungers for."
Mr. Gore used the phrase "no controlling legal authority" to explain his fund-raising phone calls in 1996 from his offices in Washington. Federal law prohibits politicians from using federal property to solicit political donations.
When Mr. Bush said he was still weighing other debate offers, the Gore campaign accused him of trying to duck the format, which would most likely have the candidates standing at podiums in prime time to face questions from a panel of journalists and each other.
The Bush campaign chose to hold its Labor Day kickoff, the traditional start of the fall presidential campaign, in the battleground state of Illinois, where a poll last week showed Mr. Gore with a five-point lead, 46 percent to 41 percent.
From there, Mr. Bush flew to Michigan, another hotly contested state. He will visit six states this week with a total of 107 electoral votes at stake.
The Republican began with a rally on the friendly turf of DuPage County, a Republican suburb of Chicago.
Said Naperville resident Jim Kreitz, "There's not a lot of socialists in DuPage County. Education, individualism, limited government those things are important to the people here."
Some among the faithful acknowledged that Mr. Bush's campaign has not had its best days since Mr. Gore came roaring out of the Democratic convention Aug. 17. Mr. Gore now leads Mr. Bush slightly in most national polls.
"He needs something to get more excitement into his campaign," Mary Jenkins, a Republican from DuPage County, said of Mr. Bush. "I think [the Bush campaign] needs a good boost right now. It's floundering a little bit."
That extra boost could come today in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Bush plans to announce his proposal for prescription-drug coverage for Medicare recipients.
At a peach festival late yesterday in the bellwether district of Macomb County, Mich., Mr. Bush dismissed Mr. Gore's recent promises to provide a prescription-drug benefit as coming too late.
"I find it amazing that my opponent is still talking about prescription drugs," Mr. Bush said. "They talked about it in 1992. They said, 'Vote for us. We'll get you prescription drugs.' They talked about it in 1996. They're still talking about it in 2000. They have failed to lead on this issue."
Mr. Bush yesterday used a fistful of dollar bills to illustrate for the crowd in Naperville how he wants to use the projected federal surplus of $4 trillion.
"I want to take $2 trillion of that and set it aside for Social Security," Mr. Bush said. Another $1 trillion would be used for increased spending on education, the military and prescription-drug benefits for seniors, he said.
He said roughly $1 trillion would go for tax cuts "to the people who pay the bills." And he derided Mr. Gore for promoting "targeted tax cuts" that would not benefit all taxpayers.
"He believes Washington ought to be picking and choosing [tax cuts]," Mr. Bush said. "If you remember, in 1992, they said, 'Give us a chance. We will have targeted tax cuts.' And now they have to say it again. You know why? They've had their chance. They have not led, and we will."
Bill Sammon contributed to this report from Air Force Two.

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