Published November 03, 2002
TAMPA, Fla. – President Bush and former President Clinton campaigned for their parties' candidates in the Florida gubernatorial race Saturday, stoking the flames in one of the country's most heated elections.
"For the sake of Florida taxpayers, for the sake of Florida schoolchildren, for the sake of dignity and integrity in the office of governor, send Jeb Bush back to Tallahassee," the president told thousands of rowdy Republicans, hoping to help his brother keep his job.
Meanwhile, in the first of three events Saturday for Democratic challenger Bill McBride, Clinton invoked the state's 2000 recount debacle in the presidential election.
"If you don't vote this time because of what happened last time, it's like taking your vote away twice," Clinton told an audience of African-Americans and union members at Miami-Dade Community College.
Jeb Bush observed that Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were all stumping in the state for McBride, then said he doubted the four would have any impact on the election. "Multiply that by 50 and I will take one George W. Bush," he said.
The president's rallying for his brother -- heavy on the topic of education, a pivotal issue in the Florida election -- was the final leg in a sprint through Tennessee, Georgia and Florida Saturday.
The 42nd and 43rd presidents immersed themselves in a contest Democrats say is an Election Day priority: toppling Jeb Bush.
Gore planned to join the Democratic cause Monday, after Clinton's weekend campaigning. The former vice president has made the Florida recount, which decided the White House, a staple of his get-out-the-vote efforts.
"If anybody ever tells you that one vote doesn't count, talk to me about it," Gore said Friday in West Orange, N.J.
Democrats see a McBride victory as a way to embarrass the White House and damage George W. Bush's re-election prospects in 2004.
"They're going to roll out every gun they have to win in Florida," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Added Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor: "It's the duel of the presidents."
The bitter 2000 presidential race against Gore loomed large throughout Bush's travels.
"I got a fond spot in my heart for Tennessee, if you know what I mean," he said in Blountville, Tenn. Bush won Gore's home state in the election two years ago.
Though the Republican faithful packed his audiences, Bush sought to widen his message. GOP activists, he said, should "talk it up with people who may not pay attention to politics as much as we do" and reach out to "discerning Democrats."
"I'm traveling the country reminding Republicans, Democrats, people who don't give a hoot about politics to do their duty, and go to the polls," Bush said. In an election season refrain, he added that he had some "suggestions" once voters arrived to vote.
In Tennessee, he pushed for Rep. Van Hilleary in his close contest for governor against Democrat Phil Bredesen, and Lamar Alexander, who challenged Bush for the 2000 presidential nomination and who leads Democratic Rep. Bob Clement for Tennessee's open Senate seat.
"If you care about the quality of government in Nashville and Washington, turn out to vote!" Bush said. "Go to your houses of worship, go to your coffee shops, and when you get there Monday morning, instead of sitting around worrying about the weather, worry about who the next governor's going to be, worry about who the next senator's going to be."
Pointing to NASCAR star Darrell Waltrip in the crowd, Bush said the stock car driver had asked his permission to drive the presidential limousine. "No!" Bush said to laughter. But, referring to the region's favorite sport, Bush offered this assurance: Hilleary "is going to win the NASCAR vote."
In Marietta, Ga., Bush boosted Sonny Perdue, a former Democratic president of the state Senate, in his campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, the favorite. Bush also made an appeal for Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., trying to oust Democratic Sen. Max Cleland.
"It's time to quit the sermonizing and it's time to pass the plate," Bush said.
"If we believe in democracy, if you love freedom, then you have a responsibility to go to the polls next Tuesday, and I'm not talking about just a handful of Georgia citizens, I mean everybody -- Republicans, Democrats, people who could care less about political party," Bush said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.