Bush, Gore kick off fall campaign season with appeal to working families
Candidates trade jabs over debate schedule
NAPERVILLE, Illinois (CNN) -- The major presidential candidates kicked off the fall campaign season Monday with appeals to working Americans as they again accused each other of ducking presidential debates.
Democratic nominee Al Gore marked Labor Day with unionized workers during a round-the-clock campaign blitz and Republican rival George W. Bush touted his tax-cut plan while stumping through Midwestern states Monday.
"As we come down to the stretch, we're ready for the contest. We feel great about our chances," Bush said during a rally Monday in Naperville, Illinois.
Bush and his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, arrived in the GOP-friendly Chicago suburb early Monday to take part in the town's Labor Day parade. The duo then parted ways, with Bush heading to Romeo, Michigan, for the state's annual peach festival and Cheney attending a Polish food fair in Chicago.
Deadlocked in the polls with Gore, Bush plans to visit nine cities this week in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio -- states that represent 107 electoral votes, and which polls indicate are up for grabs.
His stump speeches have reflected a growing sense of urgency in recent weeks, and have been increasingly peppered with attacks on his Democratic rival's ties to ethical problems that have plagued the Clinton administration.
"It's time to elect people who say what they mean and mean what they say when they tell the American people something," Bush said Monday. "It's time to get rid of all those words like 'no controlling legal authority.'"
Gore used the phrase to defend the practice of making telephone fund-raising calls from his White House office during the 1996 presidential campaign. The vice president charged the calls to a private credit card, and said there was "no controlling legal authority" that forbid raising political donations from government property.
Bush focused on familiar stump themes such as education and military readiness during his Labor Day speech, and described his across-the-board tax-cut proposals as aimed at helping working-class families.
Bush talks of giving money back to the American people Monday in Naperville, Illinois
"The surplus doesn't exist because of the ingenuity and hard work of the federal government. The surplus exists because of the ingenuity and hard work of the American working people," Bush said, countering Gore claims that his 10-year, $1.3 trillion plan is too costly.
He said that Gore's targeted tax cut proposals, aimed at helping low- and middle-class Americans through deductions for education, health care, and child care expenses, would likely by forgotten after the November election.
"If you remember in 1992, they said give us a chance, we will have targeted tax cuts for the middle class. And now they have to say it again," Bush said.
Just prior to his speech, Bush was heard using an expletive to describe a New York Times reporter -- the author of several articles Bush campaign regarded as unfair.
Standing on stage, Bush leaned over to vice presidential running mate Dick Cheney and said "There's Adam Clymer, major league a------ from The New York Times."
Cheney replied, "Oh, yeah, big time."
Neither man was apparently aware that their remarks could be picked up by
an open microphone on the podium. When asked about the exchange, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said that Bush comment was "meant to be a whispered aside to his running mate. It was not intended to be a public comment."
Gore rallies steel workers
Gore continued a six-day, 27-hour frenzy of campaigning designed to reach out to core Democratic supporters with a pitch to union workers during an outdoor rally in Pittsburgh.
Gore greets supporters in Pittsburgh, one of five cities he will visit in a 24-hour campaign swing
Continuing his populist message, Gore renewed his pledge to raise the minimum wage, build more public schools, secure passage of a patients' bill of rights and provide prescription drug coverage for seniors under the government's Medicare program.
Speaking to thousands of steelworkers, Gore tried to label Bush's tax-cut plans as a boon for the wealthiest Americans.
"What it all comes down to is whether or not we're going to fight for those who most need the help," Gore told the cheering crowd.
Also on hand at the rally were civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney. Sweeney lined up an early AFL-CIO endorsement of Gore during the presidential primary season despite differences with the vice president on global trade issues, most recently his support for permanent normalized trade relations with China.
"Eight years of Clinton-Gore haven't been enough to repair the damage of 12 years of Reagan and Bush," Sweeney told the crowd. "Al Gore is running for president as the champion of working families and unions."
From Pittsburgh, Gore heads to Louisville, Kentucky, for a rally at an outdoor motor speedway. It's the final stop on a non-stop tour that began yesterday in Philadelphia. After late night stop in Michigan, Gore and running mate Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut arrived in Florida in the pre-dawn hours of Monday.
The vice president headed to an all-night coffee shop to chat with waitresses while Lieberman visited a bakery. "We decided that in the wee hours of Labor Day ... we'd reconnect with our roots," Gore told a dawn rally. "It was very moving for me."
Gore and Lieberman later had breakfast with firefighters at a Hispanic neighborhood fire station in one of the city's busiest districts. "This crowd is a crowd that looks like America," said Gore.
As Gore headed for Pittsburgh, Lieberman returned to Michigan to attend a Labor Day festival in Detroit.
"If you ever wondered whether Michigan is central to what happens in this election, I've been here three times in the last week and twice in the last 10 hours," Lieberman told cheering union workers.
Sniping continues over debates
Bush and Gore have not yet agreed when and where to formally debate this fall, and the long-distance debate over the debates extended into Monday's events.
Gore's campaign rejected the Texas governor's offer on Sunday to participate in three presidential debates -- two of which would take place on television shows. Gore insisted Monday that Bush must first accept the three 90-minute debates proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
"This is not about what is best for George W. Bush or what is best for Al Gore. It's about what's best for the American people," said Gore, who argued that commission debates will reach the widest possible viewing audience.
Under the Bush camp's proposals, presidential debates would take place on NBC's "Meet the Press," hosted by Tim Russert, and CNN's "Larry King Live." The third would be hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has organized the quadrennial face-offs since 1988.
On Monday, the Bush campaign emphasized that Gore, regarded by many as a skilled and seasoned debater, had already accepted the CNN and NBC offers among dozens of others.
"My opponent said he would debate me anyplace, anytime, anywhere," Bush said. "I said, 'Fine. Why don't we just show up ... and discuss our differences?' All of a sudden the words 'anytime, anywhere' don't mean anything."
In addition to the three debates featuring the presidential candidates, Bush's campaign proposed two between their running mates.
But Gore campaign chairman William Daley said the Republican presidential candidate's debate plan would "shortchange Americans by cutting tens of millions of people out of the presidential debate audience," and Gore called Bush's plan a disappointment.
"I'm very disappointed in this reaction, because what's needed is to respect the right of the American people to see these debates on all the networks in prime time the way it is has been done since 1988," Gore told reporters.
Under the commission's proposal -- which Gore has accepted -- the first debate would take place in Boston on October 3, at the University of Massachusetts' John F. Kennedy Library; the second October 11, at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and the third October 17, at Washington University in St. Louis. The commission proposed a vice presidential debate for October 5 in Danville, Kentucky, at Centre College.