Gun group shoots at Gore

Houston smog cloud shadows Bush as he and McCain blaze through the Sunshine State. Candidates' Social Security plans are a cut below.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published October 26, 2000 6:08PM (EDT)

Though the vice president and George W. Bush have spent millions of their own dollars bashing each other over the airwaves, as the race enters its final days they are getting plenty of help from their friends. According to the Associated Press, one of Bush's friends, the National Rifle Association, has bought $1 million in radio and billboard advertising in several states, and the group's Political Victory Fund has endorsed the Republican candidate. "We encourage all Americans to protect their constitutional rights by voting on November 7," the organization's Web site proclaims. "Vote freedom first -- elect George W. Bush president of the United States."

Gore's allies are firing shots from the other side of the issue. Handgun Control Inc. has spent $2 million on ads criticizing Bush's record on firearms. When Bush wondered aloud at the final presidential debate who was responsible for a commercial that showed an NRA official claiming he would do the group's bidding as president, Handgun Control gladly accepted credit. "It's our ad, Mr. Bush," the group announced in a press release. Another of the organization's commercials features television president Martin Sheen.

Dark clouds over Texas
The Democrats have made Houston the star of their attack on Bush's environmental record, and the Houston Chronicle reports that the facts support the critics. Though Bush claimed on Oct. 19's "Late Show With David Letterman" that the city's air quality has been "getting better," that same day, Houston's ozone levels rose above national minimum health standards. They were too high the next day as well. Still, the Texas governor's assertion that things are improving is supported by at least one statistic. In 1995, the city had 61 days with ozone level violations. This year so far, that number has dropped to 44 days.

But analysts at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission in Houston caution that there is no clear evidence of change for the better or the worse in the city's ozone levels, and that other measures of pollution offer little reason for optimism. The TNRCC's senior meteorologist, Bryan Lambeth, said that the organization saw "a definite downward trend in the 1980s and into the early '90s," and that "from 1994 on, the statistics look pretty flat."

Bush blazes through Sunshine State
The Texas governor is seeing brighter days in his quest to win Florida. The Miami Herald reports that Bush charged through the state with primaries rival John McCain and his brother Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at his side. "I'm telling you, this place is on fire," Bush told a crowd of 2,000 supporters at an afternoon rally. "And you know what? So is this campaign." The polls, however, do not show that Florida voters have a burning love for either Bush or Gore. Two recent polls show the vice president leading in the state, with one survey calling Bush the front-runner. The difference between the candidates in each poll is within the margin of error, however. Perhaps there's a flicker of indecision on McCain's part as well: At one point he mistakenly asked the crowd to hail "the Gore-Cheney ticket."

Two zeros on the Social Security scorecard
His pledge to save the national retirement plan is part of why Gore has stayed so competitive in senior-rich Florida. The Los Angeles Times reports, however, that neither candidate offers a viable proposal for fixing Social Security. Rather, the plans offered by Bush and Gore just "tinker at the edges" of the program, according to C. Eugene Steuerle, a former Reagan administration official who currently works for the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. That's not stopping the campaigns from offering damning critiques of each other's proposals -- damning and, in the eyes of experts, wrong. Urban Institute president Robert Reischauer usually backs Gore on Social Security issues, but he believes that the Democrat's slam that Bush's partial privatization proposal would endanger current benefits is "not correct." On the other side, officials at the Congressional Budget Office dispute the charges pro-Bush ads make against Gore's plan. Though these ads assert that CBO figures indicate Gore's Social Security proposal would boost the deficit by $40 trillion, CBO director Dan Crippen denies ever having reviewed Gore's plan. "We did not analyze or calculate anything having to do with the vice president's proposal," he said.

Piece of the pie
As experts cut the wind from the candidates' sails on Social Security, another group claims that even modest privatization of the program would slice benefits. An organization called Pizza Economics has been delivering "privatized" pizza pies to illustrate what it believes would happen to Social Security under a proposal like Bush's that would allow for private-sector investment of the program's funds. The pizzas are delivered with just five out of eight pieces in the box and a note saying, "No matter how you slice it, privatization of Social Security = cuts, cuts and MORE cuts." The reduced number of slices represents the group's fears that privatization would take (approximately) 40 percent of resources away from the program. Pizza Economics is backed by several advocacy groups, including the Gray Panthers.

Join the Presidential Youth Debate
Although Bush and Gore have seriously courted the senior vote, the youth vote hasn't been getting much attention from the candidates. If you're a young person who thinks that should change, submit your question for the candidates to our Presidential Youth Debate. Both major-party candidates have pledged to answer the top 10 questions we submit to them before Election Day. Send your query to us at

On the trail
Bush: To be announced.
Buchanan: California.
Gore: Iowa and Wisconsin.
Nader: Ohio.

Presidential poll positions
Major-party candidates:

  • Bush 48 to Gore 43 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 22-24).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 43 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 22-24).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 46 (ABC News Oct. 22-24).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 45 (Washington Post Oct. 22-24).
  • Gore 45 to Bush 43 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Bush 44 to Gore 42 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).
  • Bush 48 to Gore 41 (Newsweek Oct. 18-20).

    Third-party candidates:

  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (USA Today/CNN/Gallup Oct. 22-24).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Reuters/MSNBC Oct. 22-24).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (ABC News Oct. 22-24).
  • Nader 3 to Buchanan 1 (Washington Post Oct. 22-24).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (Pew Center for the People and the Press Oct. 18-22).
  • Nader 4 to Buchanan 1 (CBS News/New York Times Oct. 18-21).

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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