GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — On the same Michigan battleground and in virtually the same words, Al Gore and George W. Bush dueled Thursday for the stressed-out-parent vote with ideas such as Bush’s TV family hour and Gore’s daycare tax credit.
The presidential candidates promised to make government a tool for helping parents protect their children – from “cultural pollution,” in Gore’s words in Grand Rapids, or, as Bush put it in Royal Oak, from a “popular culture that is sometimes an enemy of their children’s innocence.”
As their running mates met in Kentucky to debate, Bush and Gore mirrored each other’s messages and schedules, underscoring just how close their race for the White House is with 41/2 weeks to go.
They chased each other from Ohio on Wednesday to Michigan on Thursday.
Bush, who lost Michigan’s winter primary to Republican Sen. John McCain, joked to GOP Gov. John Engler, “Maybe one of these days I’ll win the state.”
From here, Bush continued on to Wisconsin and Iowa. Gore and wife Tipper were settling in front of a TV in Orlando, Fla., to watch the night’s vice presidential faceoff between Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Republican Dick Cheney.
Bush, campaigning at the Helen Keller Middle School in a solidly Republican suburb of Detroit, called on the television industry to voluntarily restore a nightly “family hour” between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., and establish a new code system using the letter “v” to identify violent programs.
The Texas governor, promising to “put government back on the side of parents,” also outlined steps to make workplace compensatory time easier to claim and to give parents flexibility to work from home. He said he would require libraries and schools that get federal funds to install Internet filters.
In Grand Rapids’ Calder Plaza, where Gore drew a lunchtime crowd that the Secret Service counted at 11,000, the vice president said his proposals to crack down on entertainment marketing would help parents guard “against cultural pollution, including the kinds of inappropriate entertainment that young children are not ready to handle.”
Gore was in the reliably Republican region, home town of former President Ford, advisers said, because internal surveys suggested that a slice of Kent County’s electorate was open to Gore and that cutting the margin of loss in western Michigan could tip the state’s 18 electoral votes his way.
Nationally, Gore was up 51 percent to 40 percent in the latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup three-day tracking poll released Thursday. Gore and Bush were virtually even Tuesday in the tracking poll of likely voters which has an error margin of 4 percentage points. The new poll was taken Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, including some voters before and after the first presidential debate.
Bush has proposed increasing the Child and Dependent Care tax credit and making it available to at-home parents, plus offering a new refundable credit for parents paying to put kids up to age 16 in after-school care.
Thursday’s Bush-Gore rhetorical echo extended to the situation in Yugoslavia, huge crowds swarmed Belgrade to demand that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic concede electoral defeat.
“It is time for Mr. Milosevic to go,” said Bush.
“He has to leave,” said Gore.
Although they sounded for much of the day as if they were singing off the same page, each threw in a discordant note or two to try and make their differences clear.
Gore focused on his $500-billion, 10-year package of targeted tax cuts versus Bush’s broader $1.3 trillion proposal.
“I will cut taxes for middle-class families, for the people who most need tax cuts — middle-class families who are making car payments and mortgage payments and struggling to make ends meet and doing right by their kids,” said Gore.
“I will not go along with any plan that squanders the surplus on a massive tax cut that gives most of the benefit to the wealthy.”
Bush took a dig at Gore’s simultaneous celebrity fund raising and crusade against entertainment smut. On Wednesday night, Gore raised for the Democratic National Committee $850,000 with help from rockers Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora.
Said Bush, “I’m not the kind of person during the day to scold Hollywood and then at night go out and say, ’Well, I really didn’t mean it. I’d like your contributions.”’
His proposal on “comp time” was a hit with business, but not with labor.
“It is truly one of those win-win situations for employers and employees,” said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor and employee benefits policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“Proposals that do away with overtime, like this one, are poor public policy,” said Brian Rainville, a spokesman for the Teamsters union.