Bush Begins Push for Middle Class Votes

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Monday September 18 1:36 PM ET

Bush Begins Push for Middle Class Votes


By Patricia Wilson

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - Republican George W. Bush hoping to breathe new life into his presidential campaign, pitched a cradle-to-grave policy message on Monday to the middle class voters courted by his Democratic rival Al Gore.

``Mine is a plan that speaks to the aspirations and hopes of middle class families,'' Bush told staff and guests at St. Vincent's Center for Women and Children.

The Texas governor discussed his plan to give parents a $1,000 tax credit for every child without exception. The credit would cost $162 billion over 10 years and represents 12 percent of his $1.3 trillion tax cut.

Campaign aides pointed out that a similar credit proposed by Vice President Gore applied only to children under age one and only if they were in formal day care.

``I don't believe the rhetoric he used at the convention that only the 'right' people should get tax cuts,'' Bush said. ''I don't think the government ought to pick and choose winners.''

Trailing in many polls and knocked off course by a series of gaffes and distractions, Bush is taking a new tack, releasing a ``Blueprint for the Middle Class,'' a 15-page summary of his position on issues important to the middle-income voters he will need to win the Nov. 7 presidential election.

Each day of campaigning this week was designed as a ''metaphor'' for a stage in life, such as going to school and college, getting a job and paying taxes, marrying and having a family, spokesman Ari Fleischer explained.

The theme ends with Bush talking about senior citizens' health care issues in Florida on Friday and Saturday.

The shift to an issues-based campaign comes after three rocky weeks for Bush in which he saw his double-digit lead over Gore evaporate and watched as the vice president managed to fend off questions about his integrity.

Shift To Issues

Bush also was plagued by several much-publicized verbal gaffes and fruitless efforts to win a less formal presidential debate schedule that played to his own strengths.

In accepting Gore's challenge to talk issues rather than personalities, Bush tried to cast the turnabout in a favorable light, telling California Republicans during the weekend: ``My opponent, after months of bitter attack politics, says he wants to talk about policy. He says he wants to talk about issues and I am glad he wants to play on our turf.''

After spending the past few weeks challenging Gore's credibility and leadership, aides said Bush would lay out his own positions and draw sharp distinctions with the vice president on taxes, spending, prescription drug benefits for the elderly, and reform of the Social Security retirement system.

But Bush and his Republican allies have not completely abandoned the character and leadership questions. While they may no longer be the focus of his speeches, Bush told CNN at the weekend character was an issue in the campaign ``because people want someone who can bring honor and dignity to the White House.''

For the first time in months, he has added a sixth day of travel this week. Bush will round out his nine-state itinerary with a stop in Nashville, Tennessee.

The states covered this week have a combined total of 160 Electoral College votes out of the 270 needed to win.

-- (hmm@hmm.hmm), September 18, 2000

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