- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

YPSILANTI, Mich. Texas Gov. George W. Bush yesterday laughed off complaints from worried supporters that his presidential campaign is floundering, saying Capitol Hill Republicans are getting jittery for no reason.
"That's Washington. That's the place where you find people getting ready to jump out of the foxholes before the first shell is fired," the Texas governor said.
As hundreds of uninvited suggestions streamed in over the last few days about what Mr. Bush should do in the final seven weeks before the election, the candidate who once led in polls by as much as 19 percentage points but is now tied said the campaign has become what he always expected it to be.
"This is going to be a tight race. I guess my supporters wanted it to be a runaway. The vice president is running a strong race, but so am I. I'm under no illusions and neither should our supporters be. I am the underdog.
"We're fixing to get into the heat of the contest, and it's good to figure out who's nervous and who's not," he said.
Joking that he should reinvent himself as Al Gore has done several times Mr. Bush said: "I may go more 'Alpha male' coming down the stretch," referring to the vice president's hiring of a feminist consultant last year to reshape his image from that of an underling of President Clinton to that of a top dog an alpha male.
But Mr. Bush said he is listening to some suggestions and will revamp his campaign style to be more aggressive and focus more on his meetings with "real people."
"The American people are going to learn about me, why I care deeply about the American folks. I've got a plan that speaks to them and their lives."
The candidate has been introducing families recently who would save thousands of dollars under his tax-cut proposals, but they usually appear at a rally and don't get a chance to speak.
Mr. Bush said featuring such families at his side will be "a better picture" than televised shots of him speaking to reporters on his campaign plane.
"I'd like to be able to meet with people more often in less formal settings," Mr. Bush told reporters. "When I come back and speak to you on the airplane, people don't get a sense of my ability to relate to people. They don't get a sense that my plan has got real purposes for real people."
Mr. Bush said he would do more town-hall meetings a format used heavily by Mr. Gore to his advantage, but rarely used by the Republican candidate. He also signaled new flexibility on presidential debates.
Mr. Bush rejected two of three traditional presidential debates organized by a nonpartisan commission in favor of less formal sessions on network television programs. While saying he still preferred his own schedule, Mr. Bush no longer appeared to be insisting upon it especially since his opponent has reneged on his pledge to debate "anywhere, any time."
"There will be debates. You cannot run for the presidency without presidential debates. I made a serious attempt to find some interesting formats. Evidently, my opponent didn't see it that way."
Mr. Bush and some close to his campaign acknowledged things have not been going as planned recently.
"We've had a bad couple of weeks but there's still plenty of time," a Republican operative close to the Bush campaign said. "It is time for him to take on Al Gore head to head. He has to be the one who is quoted in the paper every day, not a spokesman for the candidate."
The source also said the changes will come due to "a heightened level of concern over the direction of the campaign."
The operative said the feud with Mr. Gore over debates was symptomatic of the Bush campaign spinning its wheels in recent weeks.
Mr. Bush has been campaigning in swing districts this week, where the crowds have been generally smaller than on his pre-convention tour. But aides say the fall campaign is aimed at independents and Democrats, and that their efforts are on track.
"When you get out here in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania and you talk to the troops on the ground, they're excited," Mr. Bush said. "And they want to win. And they want to work. And that's what I feed off of."
Part of the campaign's lost momentum, aides said, was Mr. Gore's recent success in taking credit for the prosperous economy.
"Since the Democratic convention, the vice president has recaptured some of the mantle of incumbency," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said.
"Al Gore is a very tough opponent," Mr. Bush said. "He is the incumbent. This is a man who is a part of an administration that can point to prosperity and peace. I point to the fact that they haven't led, and we need a new tone in Washington."
Meanwhile, a new ABC poll shows Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush tied with 47 percent apiece, while a CNN-USA Today tracking poll released yesterday shows Mr. Gore with 47 percent and Mr. Bush with 44 percent a virtual tie because the survey has an error margin of plus or minus four percentage points.
"I've been down in the polls before in this campaign, and I've been up," Mr. Bush said. "Every time I went up, a lot of these folks in Washington were right with me. And when the polls went down, they started getting a little nervous.
"That's just what politics is all about."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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