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Saturday September 16 11:26 PM ET
Bush Criticizes Gore's Policies
By SCOTT LINDLAW, Associated Press Writer
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP)- George W. Bush sharpened his criticism of Democratic rival Al Gore's policy proposals on Saturday and told Republican activists that Gore is taking a California victory for granted.
``My opponent has made the mistake of already counting the votes of California - but we are going to earn them,'' Bush said, looking to reassure the GOP faithful that he will fight all-out to win the nation's largest state. And he reassured his backers nationwide in a separate interview on CNN that he will work as hard as necessary to win the election.
``My supporters have got to know something: They're working hard and I'm working hard right along with them,'' said the Republican nominee, speaking from his ranch in Texas, on CNN's ``Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields.'' ``I absolutely want to win. I'm going to win. I've got a strong schedule to get my message out in front of people.''
He said in the interview that Gore is a good family man, but he will continue to raise issues about his character in public life.
``Character is an issue in this campaign,'' Bush said. ``It is an issue because people want someone who can bring some honor and dignity to the White House.''
Bush used the address beamed by satellite into the California Republican convention to pull together attacks on Gore's initiatives on Medicare, Social Security, taxes and education.
Aides said the speech previewed themes the Texas governor will use in coming days as he seeks to regain his momentum.
Bush charged that Gore's targeted tax cuts, aimed at families saving for college tuition or paying for long-term care, would pass over 50 million American taxpayers.
Gore's Social Security plan would entail ``staggering tax increases on the next generation,'' he said.
The vice president's prescription drug plan forces the elderly to ``join a government HMO,'' and gives them one chance to sign up, at age 641/2, he said.
And while Gore promises ``revolutionary'' changes in education, ``most Americans would settle for high standards, accountability, discipline, local control and a choice in the matter,'' Bush said.
Gore, he said, prefers solutions that turn to big government, rather than trusting individuals.
``In all his plans, who ends up with the power? Who always ends up making the choices? Not taxpayers, but tax collectors,'' he said.
The Gore campaign quickly responded.
``George Bush would take us back to the economic stagnation and deficits of the Bush-Quayle-Cheney years,'' said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane. ``Al Gore will move forward and build on the success of the last eight years by paying off the national debt, guaranteeing Social Security and Medicare, and continuing to grow the economy.''
Sen. John McCain (news - web sites), defeated by Bush in the battle for the GOP nomination, offered a powerful endorsement of Bush here Saturday night, saying Bush was right on such issues as education and Social Security.
``I certainly don't want to address Al Gore as president of the United States,'' he said.
Gore's return to the state Monday will be his first since the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles a month ago. Gore is not advertising in the state, while the GOP is spending more than $500,000 a week for Bush.
The Texas governor trailed the vice president by 13 percentage points in the latest Field Poll in California, which carries 54 electoral votes, the most in the nation.
Gore also leads in Washington state, and is about tied with Bush in Oregon.
``Let me tell you what I firmly believe, we're going to win in the fall, we're going to win the great state of California,'' he said in a line that drew a roar of approval.
Bush made his remarks from his ranch in Crawford, Texas following a three-day trip to California, where he courted swing voters and core Republicans.
Republican officials said Saturday that if the election were held today, Bush would carry 48 of California 58 counties, based on voter registration. But the 10 counties they view as tilting toward Gore include most of the state's population centers, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose.
Bush's absence at the convention here marked the fourth straight time in two years he has skipped the gathering. He was spending the weekend in Texas.
Republicans view Palm Springs, in Riverside County, as solidly GOP territory, and said there was no point in the GOP presidential nominee romancing activists who are going to vote for him anyway.
``A candidate's time is precious, and he needs to spend that time in places where he can win more votes,'' said John Campbell, an activist from Irvine, Calif.
Told that Bush is spending the weekend at home, Campbell, who is running for a state legislative seat, said: ``I'm a candidate, and you can't do this 24-7.''
Other Republicans praised Bush's skipping this gathering as a savvy move that allows the GOP presidential nominee to avoid bitter feuds over such issues as abortion that usually plague the Republican convention.
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