Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Bush, Gore appeal to all-important Southern vote

Kentucky among states in play; look for more visits before Nov.

By Karin Miller
The Associated Press Writer

        NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The South is an important battleground for presidential votes.

        Al Gore — counting on big electoral votes from Califor nia and New York and fighting hard in the Midwest — originally was expected to cede the South to Republican George W. Bush.

        But as Democrat Gore's poll numbers climb nationally, he's focusing more on the region both candidates call home. Mr. Bush is governor of Texas; Mr. Gore represented Tennessee in Congress for 16 years.

        Since Labor Day, Mr. Gore has stumped in Kentucky and Florida, raised money in Georgia and joined his wife, Tipper, in Louisiana. Daughter Karenna has campaigned in Tennessee, and Mr. Gore's running mate, Joseph Lieberman, has spoken in Arkansas and Texas.

        Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney aren't worried about losing Texas, so in the South they've focused primarily on Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother Jeb is governor and 25 electoral votes are at stake — the fourth-biggest prize in the nation.

        Mr. Bush's father, former President Bush, carried Florida twice; so did Ronald Reagan. But the Clinton-Gore ticket took the state in 1996, and the state has 300,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.

        Mr. Gore has been criticized in Florida for pandering to Cuban-Americans by advocating permanent residency for Elian Gonzalez, but his health care plans have gained him support from retirees. His Orthodox Jewish running mate could bring out more Jewish old folks.

        “Anybody who writes Florida off in one column or the other is making a mistake,” Mr. Gore says. Polls in the state show him and Mr. Bush neck and neck.

        Analysts say Mr. Bush can't win the presidency without Texas, Florida and a good chunk of other Southern states, and spokesman Tucker Eskew says the governor's message fits the South well — “It will be one of the foundations on which his victory was built.”

        Mr. Bush's “compassionate conservatism” plays well in the South, and some Southerners — particularly farmers and coal miners — have been put off by Mr. Gore's stands on the environment and tobacco.

        But the fight is far from over.

        “The battleground is not only in the Midwest, but also in the South,” said Ellen Mellody, Mr. Gore's Southern communications director. “The South has been an area that Republicans could count on without putting much money or resources into it. That's not true anymore.”

        One reason is that six Southern states now have Democratic governors. The South also is becoming less agrarian.

        “You cannot dismiss that it's still more conservative and moralistic and culturally traditional, but there is movement in that direction,” said John Kuzenski, a political science professor at The Citadel in South Carolina and organizer of an annual symposium on Southern politics.

        A candidate needs 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes to win. Texas would give Mr. Bush 32. Add Florida (25) and seven other states trending toward Mr. Bush — Alabama (9), Georgia (13), Kentucky (8), Mississippi (7) and North Carolina (14), South Carolina (8) and Virginia (13) — and Mr. Bush would get 129 electoral votes in the South.

        Mr. Gore probably will win Tennessee (11) and West Virginia (5). He has a shot at Louisiana (9) and Arkansas (6), and there's a slight possibility he could pick off Georgia or Kentucky. And then there's the fight for Florida.

        One key for Mr. Gore in the South is turnout by black voters.

        His black campaign manager, Donna Brazile of Louisiana, could help. So could President Clinton, who has strong support from blacks.

        And though some blacks question Mr. Lieberman's commitment to affirmative action, he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and registered black voters in the 1970s.

        Both candidates emphasize roots. Mr. Gore pulls on his cowboy boots; Mr. Bush his cowboy hat. Both pepper speeches with y'alls and drawls. Mr. Gore declares himself a grateful “son of the South.” Mr. Bush calls himself “the only true Southerner” in the race.

        But Mr. Gore, 52, was born in Washington, D.C.; Mr. Bush, 53, in New Haven, Conn. Both went to private prep schools — Mr. Gore in Washington and Mr. Bush in Massachusetts. Both graduated from Ivy League universities.

        Mr. Bush did spend much of his childhood in West Texas and moved back to the state in 1975 after he got a master's degree in business from Harvard.

        Mr. Gore spent boyhood summers at his parents' farm in Middle Tennessee. He lived in an Alabama trailer home while in the Army and worked in Nashville. But for the past 24 years, he has lived in Washington — as a House member, senator and vice president.

        “Look at the number of years Bush has spent in Texas and compare that to the number of years Gore has lived in Washington,” said Larry Sabato, director of governmental studies at the University of Virginia. “Gore has been nationalized; Bush seems very Southern and very Texas.”

        That distinction could matter, he said, since Southerners are prone to embrace their own.


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