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Bush brothers rally party faithful

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent   |   Nov. 3, 2002 at 12:01 AM   |   Comments

TAMPA, Fla., Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The brothers Bush filled Tampa's Sun Dome with the sounds of thunderous foot pounding and deafening chants of "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A." Saturday in a dual get-out-the-vote rally for a midterm election contest seen by many as a proxy referendum on the president himself.

"I'm really excited about this campaign because I think I'll be the first Republican (governor of Florida) re-elected in modern times," Jeb Bush told a crowd of some 8,000 people.

"Four more years," the crowd responded.

President George W. Bush then extolled his brother's beliefs and political agenda, before adding a plea and making a prediction.

"Starting tomorrow, round up people and tell them to go to the polls on Tuesday," he said. "Jeb's counting on your help, and so am I.

"And you won't be wasting your time. You watch and see what happens next Tuesday, thanks to your hard work, thanks to his good message, thanks to his great record. Not only are Republicans going to turn out in droves, but this man is going to get (the) independent vote, (the) discerning Democrat vote, (the) wise Democrats are going to come his way and you're going to have four more years of a great governor in Jeb Bush."

Jeb Bush is locked in a bitter re-election battle against businessman and lawyer Bill McBride, who barely edged out former Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno for his party's gubernatorial nomination.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, who narrowly lost the state -- some Democrats say he was legally finagled out of a victory -- in 2000, are appearing separately for McBride in the next few days in the run-up to Tuesday's balloting.

"... Make no mistake, the Democratic National Committee and its leadership have said publicly, on the record, that Florida is their No. 1 priority," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said aboard Air Force One. "Winning the governorship of Florida is their single most important campaign in the country as expressed by the chairman of the Democratic National Committee."

Television's political pundits and other analysts have long cast a lingering glance at Florida. The Election 2000 controversy over ballots culminated in a court decision that led to George Bush's victory in the state and clinched the presidency, still shadows state politics. The fact that the president's brother is governor makes his re-election bid appear a proxy contest for the president and the popularity of his administration. A Jeb Bush loss in Florida would be seen as an embarrassment for the president and could be trumpeted by some as a harbinger of Election 2004.

A Mason-Dixon Poll for media clients taken Oct. 28-29 had McBride trailing Bush by 8 points -- 43 percent to Bush's 51 percent -- with 6 percent of the 800 likely voters still undecided. The margin of error for the poll was given as plus or minus 3.5 percent.

A poll taken of 600 likely voters by Florida Voter for the Sun-Sentinel/Orlando Sentinel on Oct. 22-25 showed Bush ahead 49 percent to 43 percent, with 8 percent undecided. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

A poll taken for McBride on Oct. 13-14 of 600 likely voters, showed the candidates neck-and-neck: Both at 47 percent, with 6 percent undecided. The margin of error was given as plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Bush's Florida stop on behalf of his brother Friday was just the warmup for a homestretch sprint on behalf of GOP candidates, who he argues will help him in pushing his agenda for America through Congress.

On Sunday and Monday the president will visit Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa and Arkansas before stopping in Texas, where he will cast his own ballot Tuesday at the Crawford fire house.

"We have an obligation as American citizens to vote," Bush said. "So as we're approaching Election Day, I'm traveling the country reminding Republicans and Democrats and people who don't give a hoot about politics to do their duty and go to the polls.

"But I've got some suggestions once they get in the box."

That message was first uttered Saturday in a chilly airport hanger at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tenn.

It was repeated, with some variation, in Atlanta and Savannah, Ga. It had been used earlier in the week elsewhere, and was repeated in Tampa.

The war against terror, education reform, a permanent tax cut, anti-terrorism insurance, medical reform and creation of a Homeland Security Department -- stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate -- were each given a share of the spotlight in the president's stump speech as he called for the election of Republican candidates.

First lady Laura Bush was also carrying that refrain to a number of states over the weekend, including South Dakota, home state of the Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Tom Daschle.

Daschle is not running, but is campaigning hard for Sen. Tim Johnson, who is running neck-and-neck against his Republican challenger John Thune.

A total of 34 Senate seats are being contested Tuesday. Counting the seat that had been held by Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash Oct. 25, the Democrats control the chamber by just one vote.

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a narrow lead, are up for grabs.

Historically, the party in the White House suffers reverses in first-term, midterm elections. The GOP, however, is expected to keep control of the House this year, but a number of key races are tight.

The brothers Bush were given a bit of extra help Friday in Tampa. Warming up an already enthusiastic crowd was former Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Schwarzkopf, who commanded U.S. troops on the ground during the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq, said he would be out of state on Tuesday, but had already voted by absentee ballot.

Whom did he vote for? he asked rhetorically. "His dad was commander in chief when we kicked the hell out of the Iraqis," Schwarzkopf said.

He urged the crowd to vote for Jeb Bush, and also made it a point to praise President Bush, saying he had faith in his leadership should the United States again go to war against Iraq.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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