Several months ago, no one would have dreamed that Al Gore had a snowball's chance in Florida. Now, the Miami Herald reports, he's doing his best to seal a Sunshine State victory. Gore even got a little cocky about his possible win when he criticized George W. Bush for using fuzzy math in his Social Security reform program. "The numbers just do not add up," Gore said at a rally. "That's fine ... We're going to win Florida, and it won't matter." Accompanied by singer Jimmy Buffett, the vice president blasted Bush's record as Texas governor at a stop in Tampa. "Texas leads the nation in industrial pollution, and Houston has become the smog capital of the United States," Gore said. "As someone once said, 'Houston, we have a problem.'"
Bush, who campaigned in Minnesota and Iowa on Wednesday, sent his surrogates to Florida to press the case that Gore has a long history as a liar and an opportunist. Bush running mate Dick Cheney was joined by former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson and ex-presidential nominee Robert Dole. Simpson alleged that, as a senator, Gore decided his vote on whether to support the Persian Gulf War by figuring out which side would give him the most television time. "It was a pathetic, craven, sad and disgusting thing to me because if you have integrity, nothing else matters," Simpson said. "If you don't have integrity, nothing else matters." Members of Gore's staff dismissed the accusation, as they have every time the story has been repeated. "Simpson made that story up," said Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway. "It has been discredited thoroughly. There is absolutely no truth to that story."
Storming the north country
While Gore tried to plant his flag in traditionally conservative Florida, Bush invaded Minnesota, normally an easy target for Democrats, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. As he did in a California stop earlier in the week, the Texas governor predicted an upset victory in the state. "You know what's going to happen here on Nov. 7? We're going to carry Minnesota," Bush said to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters. "You know it, I know it. The only people who don't know it are our opponents -- and they're fixin' to find out." The warm welcome heartened Bush communications chief Karen Hughes. "If you had told me at the beginning of the campaign we'd be in Minnesota the last week of the campaign, no one would have believed you," she said. "It's close here and that's very encouraging. This is the kind of crowd I'd expect to see in Texas -- not Minnesota." Some people feel that Bush should thank Green Party candidate Ralph Nader for the surprising competitiveness of the Minnesota race. The consumer crusader has been courting liberals in that state.
Here, there and everywhere
The Nader wild card has put states on the battleground list that neither of the major-party candidates had anticipated would be in contention. The Washington Post reports that the new map has led to a jumbled schedule and a confusing Electoral College picture. While most polls show Bush with a slim lead in the popular vote, state surveys show Gore gaining Electoral College prizes like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Bush team, however, discounts the possibility that Gore could win the Electoral College -- and the White House -- while losing the popular vote. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer suggests that state polls simply lag behind national ones in documenting a surge for the Republican candidate. "There's unarguably a national trend," he said, "and it's impossible to be up nationally if you're not up in [most] battleground states."
However the battleground states fall, Gore seems determined to keep President Clinton out of them, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I appreciate [Clinton's] help getting out the vote and doing a few things," Gore said on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on Tuesday. "But we're not going to campaign together because I am running on my own." The vice president has put out the unwelcome mat for his boss in Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, effectively confining Clinton to states that Gore doesn't feel are very close. For example, the president will be whipping up team spirit among the Democratic faithful in California. Gore has encouraged the president to go to only one tossup territory, Clinton's home state of Arkansas.
That strategy has earned the approval of former Clinton lieutenant and freelance Democratic booster James Carville. "It makes sense, because if [Clinton] appears with Gore, it just sucks all the air out of everything; it's all people want to talk about," Carville said. "Gore is in a tight, tight, tight race, and he's got to make his case himself." But the short leash has other Democratic officials grumbling. "Are [Gore and his advisors] right to do this? No," said one top Democratic consultant, asserting that Clinton's absence will hurt congressional Democrats running in battleground states. "They are right not to have joint appearances, and they are right not to make a Clinton tour the focus of the end of the campaign ... But are there places where Clinton can go and help local candidates? You bet there are."
Nader aims for Gore's soft spots
The Green Party candidate, once discounted by the vice president's campaign, is refusing to stay out of the tossup states Gore needs. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Nader blasted the vice president in language stronger than most Bush operatives would dare use during a rally in Wisconsin. Nader called Gore a "forked-tongued" politician and mocked him for failing to drub Bush in the race. "It would be clear that Gore beat himself," Nader said in response to Democratic calls for him to drop out of the race. "Al Gore thinks we're supposed to be helping him get elected. I've got news for Al Gore: If he can't beat the bumbling Texas governor with that terrible record, he ought to go back to Tennessee."
Lazio caught chasing "blood money"
Hillary Rodham Clinton has endured months of catcalls demanding that she go back to where she came from, with most of those shouts coming from New Yorkers who have pledged their loyalty to Rick Lazio, her opponent in the Senate race. Lazio recently attacked the first lady for accepting a donation of $50,000 -- which she ultimately returned -- from the American Muslim Alliance, a group widely condemned as being anti-Israel.
Now Lazio himself has some explaining to do. The New York Observer reported that the Long Island congressman has solicited funds from the same organization he slammed as 'people who support terrorism.'" The fundraising form letter, which casts Lazio as David to Clinton's Goliath, was sent to Faroque Khan, chairman of the New York chapter of the American Muslim Alliance. "Will you help me, compete against 'the power of the Presidency' by returning your election-winning, Clinton-defeating gift of $30 or $60 today?" the letter asks. Though Khan blasted Lazio for hypocrisy, the Republican's campaign dismissed the solicitation as an unfortunate coincidence. "We send out millions of letters," said Lazio spokesman Dan McLagan. "We haven't taken any money from this guy."
On the trail
Bush: Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin.
Gore: Texas, New Mexico and Missouri.
Nader: Colorado and Washington.
Presidential poll positions
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