The final weekend of the presidential
campaign is drawing to a close as Al Gore
and George W. Bush make a final, frantic
push for votes in a race that both have a shot
ABCNEWS.com Nov. 5 — George W. Bush is walking and talking like a front-runner in the presidential race, even as Al Gore continues to turn up the rhetoric against his opponent. Both Gore and Bush are barnstorming through election battlegrounds today, outlining their respective proposals to reform Social Security while trying to boost voter turnout in places where the race is too close to call.
And while Bush has a slight edge in the polls, the contest still seems likely to wind up as the closest election in a generation. Despite the positive attitude displayed by the Bush campaign, Gore aides claim their internal polling shows a virtually even race.
An ABCNEWS tracking poll released this morning shows Bush leading Gore 49 percent to 45 percent, with Green Party nominee Ralph Nader at 3 percent.
Bush has also shrugged off the Thursday revelation that he pleaded guilty to drunk driving in Maine in 1976, showing no discernible loss of support since then.
Florida Still the Key
Bush, the Republican nominee, is devoting his day to campaigning in Florida, the largest toss-up state left.
“My opponent says, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet,’” Bush told his audience at a rally in West Palm Beach, swiping one of Gore’s favorite refrains. “He’s right … When it comes to Social Security reform, we ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Bush added he would “be willing to think differently to bring Democrats and Republicans together” to solve Social Security, underscoring his claim that he alone can bring bipartisan leadership to Washington.
The GOP nominee, who has been calling for a reform of the Social Security system that would allow people to invest a portion of their benefits for themselves, reiterated his message at a later rally at Florida International University in Miami.
“I also believe we ought to trust workers to invest your own money and get a better rate of return,” Bush told the corwd assembled at the univerity’s football stadium.
This morning, the Texas governor also met with the Rev. Billy Graham in Jacksonville, Fla.
Although Graham does not formally endorse political candidates, he left little doubt he is supporting Bush, giving a wink when asked who he is backing.
That Bush must fight to win Florida’s 25 electoral votes is one of the biggest surprises of the campaign. Bush would seem to have a natural advantage in the Sunshine State because his brother Jeb is governor, and the state traditionally votes Republican.
“I think we’re down to turnout right now,” said Jeb Bush today on ABCNEWS’ This Week. “We’re going to carry this state because he has a message they believe in.”
Bush will appear at later events in Tampa and Orlando.
Bush advisers say they are running well in southern Dade County, which Gore is counting on as a stronghold of support in the state. But the battle for Florida remains tight.
“This has been a wacky year,” Jeb Bush conceded today. “Anything could happen.” But he added, “I’m confident he can carry this state.”
Gore Seeks Urban Turnout
Gore will be campaigning in Pennsylvania (23 electoral college votes), Michigan (18), and Wisconsin (11).
“I’m asking not only for your vote, but for your enthusiasm and for your dedication,” Gore told the congregation at an African-American church in Philadelphia this morning.
“There’s an old African proverb that says when you pray, move your feet,” the vice president added. “I’m sure you’ve heard that proverb. Tuesday is the day to move your feet and take your souls to the polls.”
Gore then spoke at a rally in downtown Philadelphia before flying to Michigan.
Gore’s advisers continue to feel confident that despite their small deficit in the national polls, they are running evenly with Bush in the key swing states.
And while Gore will be criticizing Bush’s plan to allow people to privately invest a portion of their Social Security benefits, he also figures to use Bush’s position on Social Security to challenge the Texas governor’s fitness for higher office.
A TV ad released by the Gore campaign seizes on a misstatement Bush made about the issue on Thursday, when he said Democrats wanted to run Social Security “like it is some kind of federal program.”
“Is he ready to lead America?” the ad asks.
Gore has been increasingly critical of Bush’s readiness for the presidency, and this weekend he has made a series of pointed remarks about the choice facing voters.
At a rally in Pittsburgh Saturday night, Gore alluded to slavery when discussing the so-called “strict constructionist” justices Bush says he would appoint to the court, on the model of the bench’s most conservative justices: Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Such an approach, Gore said, reminded him of “the strictly constructionist meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written, how some people were considered three-fifths of a human being.”
And at a prayer breakfast in Memphis Saturday, Gore seemed to be alluding indirectly to the presidential race when he said, “I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome.”
Bush’s aides immediately jumped on the remark, portraying Gore as a candidate resorting to harsh personal attacks.
“I think the American people are going to resent that,” Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said.
But William Daley, Gore’s campaign chairman defended Gore’s remark.
“The struggle for good and evil will go on after the election in all of our lives,” said Daley today on ABCNEWS’ This Week.
Daley added that Bush has been persistently attacking Gore in personal terms throughout the campaign.
“It’s unfortunate, especially from a campaign that talks about civility and bringing people together,” Daley said.
The Numbers Game
In the final two days of the campaign, Gore and Bush are trying to cover as much ground as possible, hoping to swing the race through sheer geographic reach.
Gore will be in Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Florida on Monday, with a final Florida rally set for Tuesday morning. The vice president will then return to his home state of Tennessee, where he will vote and watch election returns in Nashville, where his campaign headquarters is located.
Bush is expecting to campaign Monday in Arkansas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee. He will spend election night back home in Austin, Texas.
Bush’s final-day visits to Tennessee and Arkansas, home of President Clinton, have a symbolic value, as the GOP nominee is still contesting each home state of the Democrats’ winning ticket from 1996 and 1992.
Clinton, although used sparingly as a surrogate on the campaign trail by Gore, is stumping for his former running mate today in Arkansas — the only toss-up state where the president has campaigned for Gore.
“Arkansas is close,” Clinton asked the audience at a luncheon in Little Rock today. “The polls say we’re a couple of points behind. The people in this room could carry this state for Al Gore and Joe Lieberman if you want to bad enough.”
But Clinton, as he has done before, also implied that Gore has not campaigned effectively, even as the president made the case that Bush’s proposed tax cut would create a budget deficit, raise interest rates, and slow the nation’s economic growth.
“I’ve never heard this as clearly explained as I think it needs to be,” Clinton said.
A state-by-state ABCNEWS analysis showed 13 states still in play, representing 143 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Bush is well-positioned in 25 states accounting for 213 electoral votes, while Gore is leading in 12 states, plus Washington, D.C., totaling 182 votes.
—ABCNEWS’ John Berman and Dana Hill and The Associated Press contributed to this report.