Bush Targets Middle Class in Campaign Rebuild

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Sunday September 17 4:17 PM ET

Bush Targets Middle Class in Campaign Rebuild


By Patricia Wilson

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Republican George W. Bush (news - web sites), tinkering with his message and borrowing from Democratic rival Al Gore (news - web sites)'s populist mantra, issued a ``Blueprint for the Middle Class'' on Sunday aimed at rebuilding momentum in the U.S. presidential race.

Lagging in the polls and looking to get his campaign back on track after a series of distractions and detours, Bush planned to take his own version of Gore's ``the people, not the powerful'' populism to nine states and 12 cities this week

The 15-page compendium of the Texas governor's agenda on taxes, education, health care, Social Security, family and community, contained no new policy but pulled together his positions and spelled out their specific benefits.

``This race is about policy and voters want to know what each of these candidates is offering on issues important to the middle class,'' spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters.

Gone from Bush's speeches and television advertisements, but not entirely forgotten, will be efforts to base the campaign on character issues, on Gore's credibility and leadership during his eight years as vice president.

Instead, Bush will focus on laying out his own policy positions and sharpening the distinctions between himself and Gore, a process he launched on Saturday in an address to California Republicans by satellite from his ranch near Waco.

Painting the Nov. 7 election as a kind of ``Us versus Them'' battle between the people and the federal government, Bush said: ``I don't believe government is the enemy, but I do not believe it is always the answer.''

``My opponent's ideas are shaped by a quarter-century in Washington, and they were tired even when his career began,'' Bush said, adding: ``Every big idea means bigger government.''

Shift To Issues

The Gore campaign dismissed Bush's ``blueprint'' as an inadequate response to the vice president's 190-page dissertation on his vision for the country's future.

``It is baffling that Mr. Bush would put out a 15-page document and actually expect Americans to believe there's any detail in it,'' said spokeswoman Kym Spell. ``The Bush campaign is clearly struggling to figure out a way to connect with voters.''

Despite the shift to an issues-based campaign, a challenge thrown out by Gore at the Democratic convention last month, Bush and his surrogates have not totally abandoned efforts to portray the vice president as less-than-credible and lacking integrity, especially on fund-raising.

``Character is an issue in this campaign,'' Bush said in a CNN interview on Saturday. ``It is an issue because people want someone who can bring honor and dignity to the White House.''

With their candidate trailing in opinion polls after holding a double-digit lead most of the spring and early summer, Republican allies in Congress and elsewhere urged the Texan to take the offensive in the remaining seven weeks of the election campaign

``I think Governor George W. Bush has to get out there and really get on message,'' Senate Majority leader Trent Lott said on the CBS program ``Face the Nation'' on Sunday.

``This campaign is about leadership, and he has those qualities,'' the Mississippi Republican added. ``And I think it's also about the issues. I wouldn't be shy about that at all. I would go right at it.''

From Start To Finish

Bush planned to renew his ``fight for middle income Americans'' with ``a metaphor covering all phases of life from birth through retirement,'' Fleischer told reporters.

Kicking off his start-to-finish tour with a visit to the Infirmary of the St. Vincent's Doctors Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas on Monday, Bush will discuss his plan to give parents a $1000 tax credit for each child. He winds it up on Saturday addressing senior citizen health care issues in Florida.

``My plans help real Americans at every stage of their lives,'' Bush said in a written statement. ``From birth through the retirement years, I have a plan to improve education, lower taxes, strengthen Social Security, and provide healthcare.''

The ``blueprint'' booklet would be handed out at all of Bush's events, Fleischer said, pointing out that 90 percent of it provided ``a succinct summary'' of the governor's proposals while the rest drew distinctions and comparisons with Gore's.

Among the other states in which Bush will campaign this week, adding a sixth day to his schedule for the first time in months, are Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, andKentucky, all battlegrounds crucial to both candidates in the race for the White House.

The nine states on his itinerary have a combined total of 160 Electoral College votes. A candidate needs 270 to win the presidency.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 17, 2000

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