Friday, September 22, 2000

Bush in N. Ohio: Oil's hot issue

Disputes Gore idea to tap into reserve

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        CLEVELAND — Texas Gov. George W. Bush told a crowd of Cleveland factory workers Thursday that the nation's emergency oil reserve should not be tapped to help reduce high winter heating costs.

        The Republican presidential candidate's statements came hours after his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, urged President Clinton to release 5 million barrels of crude oil reserves to see if it would help reduce prices. While Mr. Gore called the idea an “aggressive action,” Mr. Bush called it “an election year ploy” and bad public policy.

        The Clinton administration cautiously endorsed Mr. Gore's plan and hinted the president would make a decision soon.

        Mr. Bush spoke to about 100 employees and GOP party officials at Thermagon Inc., a Cleveland high-tech startup that makes gaskets to transfer heat from computer chips. Though he was scripted to talk about his Social Security reform plan, Mr. Bush said consumers would be better off if the United States did more to promote domestic oil production and ease reliance on imports.

        “Americans are worried about high energy prices,” he said. “My opponent doesn't seem to have any plan to make us less dependent on foreign oil and gas.”

        In Maryland, Mr. Gore said the 571-million-barrel national reserve could be used as a weapon against foreign oil interests.

        “America's energy resources should not be so reliant on others, so subject to shortages, so vulnerable to big oil interests with disregard for the public interests,” he said. “You ought to have the choice to get in your car, turn on your engine, and go where you want, all at a reasonable price.”

        Mr. Bush's choice of Cleveland for his 17th Ohio campaign stop was a bit unusual because it is perceived as the state's most Democratic region, which Mr. Gore is expected to win. President Clinton won Cuyahoga County in 1996 with 61 percent of the votes cast, beating Republican Bob Dole by 177,000 votes.

        With recent opinion polls showing a neck-and-neck race, Mr. Bush's Cleveland appearance is an attempt to steal some of Mr. Gore's thunder.

        “There's no question of a Gore victory in northeast Ohio. The question is about the margin of victory,” said William Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, which has 800,000 members, most of them in northeastern Ohio. “(Mr. Bush) knows he can't win here, but he's trying to cut into it.”

        With the race so close nationally, Ohio's 21 electoral votes could be key. Both candidates have stepped up their efforts here within the past few weeks.

        The Gore campaign reportedly has sent an extra 15 campaign workers into Ohio, swelling an original full-time staff of about nine people. The Bush campaign responded by opening a new Ohio campaign office in downtown Columbus, though it would claim only three full-time Ohio workers.

        Whether Mr. Bush cut into Mr. Gore's lead in this area is unclear. Available polling statistics may not paint an accurate picture of Mr. Bush's support here.

        Ohio Poll statistics released Wednesday appear to show a close race, with 46 percent of Cleveland-area voters supporting Mr. Gore and 43 percent favoring Mr. Bush.

        But among union households, 62 percent support Mr. Gore, while only 29 percent support Mr. Bush. The 8 percent margin of error in these statistics further clouds accurate predictions.

        In all likelihood, the race for Ohio could turn on a sliver of undecided voters, about 3 percent of the electorate. Surveys indicate the undecideds are mostly middle-class suburban residents and women.

        That's why Mr. Bush's Cleveland appearance was so important, said state Rep. Jim Trakas, R-Independence, the Cuyahoga County Republican Party chairman.

        “Common wisdom says that if a Republican candidate can come out of Cuyahoga County with less than a 100,000-vote loss, you're going to do pretty good,” Mr. Trakas said. “Bob Taft did that in 1998 and he became governor.”

        Mr. Gore is no stranger to base raiding. He's appeared frequently in the Cincinnati area, a region Mr. Bush is expected to easily win. Most recently he and running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman traveled through Dayton, Middletown and Cincinnati by yellow school bus to tout their education plans.

        In Cleveland, Mr. Bush tried to tailor his message as much as possible to Cleveland-area voters. He stressed his Social Security reform plan, backed an increased minimum wage, and talked about how his tax relief plan would help single parents. )

        That appeared to sway at least one likely voter, Lisa Rawls, a 44-year-old single mother of three who works as a die cutter at Thermagon.

        “Right now I'm sort of leaning toward Bush,” she said. “I guess I would have to hear what Al Gore is saying on those issues.”


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