Gore campaign tactics show divisive leadership, Bush asserts

By Glen Johnson, Globe Staff, 10/11/2000

LOUNTVILLE, Tenn. - A month before the presidential election, George W. Bush sought yesterday to use Al Gore's tax-cut policy and planned attacks on Texas as proof the vice president would be a divisive leader.

The Republican nominee, celebrating a group of Democratic endorsements, said his record shows he has been a uniter both in style and achievement. Bush made his assertions as the candidates readied for their second debate tonight in North Carolina, and after Gore decided to dispatch his running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, to Texas later this week to highlight educational, environmental, and health-care problems in the Lone Star State.

''Let me tell you another thing we're not going to do in this campaign,'' Bush told a cheering crowd of 3,000 at an eastern Tennessee airport. ''The idea of pitting groups of people against each other, you know, `Only the rich people benefit or only the big.' We're all Americans. You can't achieve a better tomorrow by pitting one group of people against another.''

To counteract the criticism, Bush highlighted the endorsements of a group of Democrats, including 22 state representatives, seven former congressmen, and two current members of Congress. Headlining the group was Griffin Bell, who served as attorney general under President Carter and joined Bush on a dais erected in an airplane hangar.

The Texas governor also played up his $1.3 trillion tax cut. He said his across-the-board cut was fairer than Gore's package of $500 billion in ''targeted'' tax cuts, since his applies to all taxpayers, while Gore's applies to only those people meeting specific government criteria, such as enrolling their children in government-approved day care centers.

''Twenty-eight days from today, the great people of this country are going to change government. We're going to have a new leader, a new attitude, a new way of conducting the people's business by bringing people together,'' Bush said.

He added: ''I understand that my opponent is fixing to go down to Texas, or somebody on his team is, and try to tear down our state. Come on down. ... I look forward to talking about Texas' record, because Texas is a great place to live - just like the great state of Tennessee. Tennessee is a fine place to live, I guess, though it depends on who your landlord is.''

The crowd delighted in the remark, a reference to the revelation in June that a family renting a home from Gore in Carthage, Tenn., was complaining about its living conditions. Democrats contended Gore had fixed the house, but local Republicans spent $5,000 making repairs and then helped the family move to Ohio.

Gore, whose performance in last week's debate was criticized for alleged exaggerations and his very audible exasperated sighs, said the American public will see a more restrained presence.

''First of all, I think I'll sigh a little less,'' Gore told Fox TV. ''Both the governor and I have learned lessons about when the microphone is on, and when it's off.''

The vice president was referring to an episode last month when Bush referred to a reporter by an obscenity, apparently unaware that a microphone was on.

Asked if the sighing he displayed in the first debate was a ''major-league mistake,'' the vice president responded, in a joking reference, ''big time.''

The governor spent the weekend preparing at his ranch in central Texas. His spokeswoman said he devoted extra attention to foreign affairs, although not because Bush appeared to stumble on the subject in the debate at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. Spokeswoman Karen Hughes said it was ''because of the foreign policy events in the news,'' referring to a revolution in Yugoslavia and renewed fighting between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East.

Susan Milligan of the Globe Staff, traveling with Gore, contributed to this report from Longboat Key, Fla.