It was 70 degrees as George W. Bush campaigned in California on Wednesday, focusing on education. It was barely in the 50s in Wisconsin where he’ll be on Thursday, talking about fuel prices.
With prices high and winter in sight in the upper Midwest, Bush also scheduled an energy policy speech for Saginaw, Mich., on Friday – exactly one week after the Clinton administration said it would tap the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to stabilize prices.
Democratic rival Al Gore had urged that administration move. Bush opposed it.
What Bush does want done will be the focus of his Friday speech. Aides said in advance that he will advocate building more refineries and natural gas pipelines, increasing energy assistance for low-income households and toughening foreign policy toward oil-producing allies.
Bush stressed education during three days of campaign stops in the Pacific Northwest and California, seeing it as a good issue for attracting independents and wavering Democrats on the West Coast.
Aides deny that he is changing his message as he moves around the country. But all candidates make adjustments.
While Bush’s energy positions are intended for a national audience, “clearly the Midwest is suffering from very high energy and natural gas prices,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Also, don’t expect Bush to say much, if anything, about his proposal to give families vouchers so their children can switch out of poorly performing public schools – once a central element of his education package.
Bush has been de-emphasizing his voucher plan in recent days because it has generated unwanted controversy. In Michigan, a ballot issue calling for a voucher system is opposed by Republican Gov. John Engler, a strong Bush supporter.
Bush ended his three-day West Coast swing with a visit to an inner-city Catholic school. He praised the parochial school system for its “zero tolerance for classroom disruptions.”
“We expect there to be safe schools,” Bush told an audience of students, parents and teachers at the Ascension Catholic School.
The school is in Los Angeles’ rough South Central area, across the street from a public school where a fifth grade teacher was killed four years ago by a stray bullet.
As part of a $47 billion ten-year education package, Bush would give extra federal money to safe-school programs. He would also protect teachers from lawsuits for enforcing “reasonable standards of discipline.”
Politically, some Republicans questioned Bush’s investment of three campaign days on the West Coast, where he faces an uphill battle.
But his strategists were buoyed by recent polls showing him pulling even with Gore nationally.
Charles Black, a Bush adviser and longtime GOP consultant, said a good performance in Tuesday’s first debate could give Bush another boost in polls nationwide – and that, in turn, might make California competitive.
“I’m going to win California,” Bush told Larry King on Tuesday night in a CNN interview. “Please don’t fall out of your chair,” he added. “I’m six points down in the polls, but who pays attention?”
Gregory Slayton, president and chief executive officer of ClickAction, a Palo Alto-based e-mail marketing company, said, “Bush is just five points behind in California. With the electorate being as volatile as it, he still has a good chance.”
Bush’s chances are better in Oregon and Washington — states that have recently gone Democratic but where polls show a close race.
Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington suggested there’s a 50-50 chance that Bush can win both states. Together, Washington and Oregon have 18 electoral votes — the same as Michigan.
Back on the East Coast, Bush strategist Karl Rove said he was not a “mole” who sent a Bush debate-preparation videotape to Gore’s campaign two weeks ago.
“No,” he replied when asked the question during a party briefing in Harrisburg, Pa. He said the material was “illicitly taken, copied and sent through the mail.” The FBI is investigating.
Gore, asked about the subject while campaigning in Iowa, made clear he believes the source was in the Bush operation. He said of the FBI investigation: “Now they’re trying to figure out who within the Bush campaign sent it.”
The Gore campaign turned the tape over to the FBI.