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Gore, in Moon, asks if Bush is qualified

Thursday, March 16, 2000

By James O'Toole, Politics Editor, Post-Gazette

Vice President Al Gore last night used Moon Area High School as a backdrop to call for increased education spending on the day after he had officially secured the delegates needed to carry the Democratic banner in November.

  Vice President Al Gore meets Tad Abramovich, 5, and his mother, Susan, at Moon Area High School yesterday. (V.W.H. Campbell, Post-Gazette)

Hundreds of partisans shoehorned into the school's gymnasium cheered the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as he reprised his calls to improve education while protecting Medicare and Social Security.

Along the way, he raised questions about whether his Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, has the experience and qualifications to be president, repeatedly referring to Bush's "risky scheme" to use much of the federal budget surplus to cut taxes.

Gore appearances yesterday in Pennsylvania on the first day after the Southern primaries underscored the importance the state is likely to have on Election Day. Pennsylvania is one of the largest states still considered largely up for grabs.

Gore also reached out both to supporters of his vanquished Democratic primary rival, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, and to backers of the Republican runner-up, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

He borrowed a page from McCain's campaign text in asking the veterans in the audience to identify themselves and thanking them for their service. Gore joined his veterans appeal to his education themes by recalling how the post-World War II GI bill had transformed American education.

"Now, at the end of the Cold War, we have an even bigger generation of students in an era when the companies are crying out for trained employees. ... We need to make a commitment to educational improvement for these kids."

Gore was applauded as he called for "revolutionary improvements to our public schools, decreasing class size, universal Head Start" preschool education.

At the end of a long campaign day that started in Florida, Gore never strayed too far from his standard stump speech. He alluded only in passing to his disagreement with Bush on the subject of campaign finance reform, one that had earlier been the focus of a novel exchange between the two certain nominees.

The previous evening, Gore e-mailed congratulations to Bush for having gone over the top on the number of delegates needed for his party's nomination -- a milestone that both candidates passed in Tuesday's primaries. Gore, whose own fund-raising record has been a cause of controversy, also challenged Bush to forgo use of so-called "soft money" during the campaign. Reprising an offer he had made to Bradley amid the early primary contests, the vice president also called for the candidates to scrap their ads in favor of a series of debates.

Bush's reply questioned Gore's credentials as a proponent of campaign finance reform and called on the vice president to release records and photographs of Gore's now-infamous fund-raising visit to a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles during the 1996 campaign. The Republican also urged the release of more data on fund-raising phone calls Gore made from the White House during that campaign.

"I'm afraid your own record does not inspire confidence," Bush said.

In a final shot at his new cyber pen pal, the governor wrote: "Thank-you for your e-mail. This Internet of yours is a wonderful invention," a mocking reference to the credit Gore had once accorded himself for sponsoring legislation that opened the previously defense-oriented communication system to the general public.

Gore's visit to the Pittsburgh region came after a hectic campaign day highlighted by an appearance before the state AFL-CIO convention in Philadelphia.

"In order to win, we've got to understand that the other side is going to throw everything they've got plus the kitchen sink," he told the union leaders. "They're manning the barricades; they're trying to funnel unprecedented money into the campaign. They're going to stop at nothing."

Gore obviously has nothing to worry about in Pennsylvania's April 4 Democratic primary, but his Philadelphia-Pittsburgh visit underscored the state's anticipated status as a key battleground in the fall. Clinton won the state easily in 1992 and 1996, but Bush's father captured it in the 1988 presidential race.

Neil Oxman, a Philadelphia political consultant, said it was no surprise that Gore's first stop after officially securing the nomination was Philadelphia.

"There are 41 reasons," Oxman said. He referred to the combined electoral votes of the states reached by that city's television stations. "The Philadelphia media market is unique," he said. "You get Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and each of them is an absolute battleground state."

Pennsylvania's importance in November is one of the factors fueling speculation that Gov. Ridge may be on Bush's short list of vice presidential prospects.

In his speech to the labor group, Gore noted his support for an increase in the minimum wage and for laws that protect unions' right to organize.

Before heading to Pittsburgh, the vice president made two more Philadelphia stops: He raised about $75,000 at a lunchtime fund-raiser, then stopped at an inner-city school for an appearance highlighting his support for handgun safety, including mandatory trigger locks.

In Moon, Gore was introduced by Rep. Frank Mascara, D-Charleroi, whose district includes the high school. Among a host of other local Democrats were Auditor General Bob Casey Jr. and Rep. Ron Klink, D-Murrysville.

Making his way to the stage, Gore -- fashionably casual in a taupe shirt and light brown slacks -- paused to bestow a hug and a kiss on former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff.

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