Bush goes home to 'barnstorm for reform'

Heat is on the Vice-President as Republican rival aims to build on poll lead by sending out team to whip up support in key battlegrounds
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The Independent US

With a flurry of opinion polls showing him taking a decisive lead in the US presidential election, a euphoric George W Bush gathered 28 of his fellow Republican governors in Texas yesterday in an effort to fire up support across the country and help propel him to victory on 7 November.

With a flurry of opinion polls showing him taking a decisive lead in the US presidential election, a euphoric George W Bush gathered 28 of his fellow Republican governors in Texas yesterday in an effort to fire up support across the country and help propel him to victory on 7 November.

The governors flocked to Mr Bush's home state at the start of a week-long campaign that will take them in teams of three or four to all the main battleground areas around the country. This so-called "barnstorm for reform" is intended not only to keep the momentum going in Mr Bush's favour, but also to underline the fact that the Republican candidate can count on the ardent support of his party base in ways that his Democratic rival, Al Gore, apparently cannot.

"This is the good beginning of the final sprint, and I'm glad to be sprinting with these folks," a beaming Mr Bush said. "Some people send out spokespeople. I'm sending out examples."

The governors' photo-op, hastily moved from a venue outside Mr Bush's official residence in Austin to a downtown hotel because of rain, was an opportunity to celebrate the results of several opinion polls issued over the weekend showing Mr Bush in the lead by anywhere from four to 11 percentage points. Not only does the pummelling he took from Mr Gore in the third and last presidential debate last Tuesday seem to have left him unscathed, the occasion appears to have done him nothing but good with the narrowing band of undecided voters.

An increasingly confident Mr Bush has spent the past few days hammering home the contention that he would give power "back to the people" and prevent the federal government from dictating how citizens should run their lives. In more than one address, he accused Mr Gore of being a champion of "meddling, overbearing government".

Mr Gore was not to be entirely outdone, however, choosing to make a hastily arranged campaign stop of his own in Texas yesterday to steal some of his rival's thunder. Appearing at a multiracial church in Dallas with Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, Mr Gore spoke about the need for "strong family values" - a theme clearly intended to undercut some of his rival's claims to the moral high ground.

Mr Gore has sought to pick holes in the Bush campaign on a narrow range of issues, most notably his plans to privatise part of the country's social security fund. For several days now, he, his advisers and his campaign adverts have been accusing Mr Bush of wanting to take $1,000bn out of the fund and making contradictory promises about where it would end up.

Mr Gore is clearly betting that social security, which pays for state pensions, is an issue emotional enough to scare voters into switching their allegiance back to him. The tactic may not be entirely successful, however, since the Bush camp is busy claiming that innovative new solutions have to be found to keep the social security fund going. "We view the attacks as a mistake on their part and an opportunity for us," Mr Bush's key political adviser, Karl Rove, said. "They're looking at it through the old paradigm, not the new paradigm."

Mr Gore also sought to make political capital out of Mr Bush's stated intention to withdraw US peace-keeping troops from the Balkans, implying it was an irresponsible proposal born of inexperience.

But it has been a frustrating few days for Mr Gore, who has been unable to capitalise on his deeper grasp of the issues, his record in office and his victory in last Tuesday's debate - apparently for no better reason than that voters do not like him.

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