CLEARWATER, Fla. - Bringing his self-declared "underdog" campaign to a must-win state, George W. Bush urged several hundred senior citizens yesterday not to believe "scare tactics" that may be thrown at them by his opponents over issues dear to their hearts.
With recent polls indicating that Florida's 25 electoral votes are up for grabs in the presidential race, Bush sought to assure residents at the "On Top of the World" retirement community that he was on their side on issues such as Social Security and access to prescription drugs.
Bush said that his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, lost his first race for governor in 1994, partly because of "old-style politics" and "scare tactics."
"Now, I promise you, unless something dramatically has changed, the same old scare-tactics politics will come into Florida. They'll be saying, you know, 'If George W. becomes the president, he's going to take away your Social Security check," the Republican nominee said.
"Don't believe it. Here's my pledge to the people of Florida: A promise made by our government will be a promise kept when I become the president of the United States."
The Texas governor arrived in Florida on the same day a new poll by USA Today/CNN/Gallup showed that Bush had dropped behind Gore in the race for the electoral votes that will determine the White House winner.
Last week, he admitted that he was an "underdog" in the presidential race after losing his longtime lead in the polls and momentum to Gore.
Clearwater was Bush's first stop on a five-state, nine-city, 7,700-mile transcontinental campaign swing that will end late Friday.
According to the Bush campaign, senior citizens make up 25 percent of the voters in Pinellas County, where Clearwater is located.
The area, a Bush staffer said, also includes a high concentration of swing voters, who could be crucial in the Nov. 7 election.
"The government has a solemn obligation to help our seniors as they get into the twilight of their lives," Bush said.
He told the senior citizens that he would spend Social Security revenue on Social Security only and spend half of the non-Social Security federal surplus on Social Security as well.
He said younger workers, under his plan, could remain in the system as it is or invest part of their Social Security contributions in private, individual investment accounts.
The Texas governor also promoted his prescription drug plan, which he unveiled last week.
The proposal would let seniors choose among private insurance plans offering drug-benefits, with Medicaid subsidizing the premiums.
"Prescription drugs for seniors are going to be a priority. Not only a priority, we're going to get something done," he said.
Bush said his prescription drug plan, unlike Gore's, would allow senior citizens to chose an option that best suits their own needs.
"We need to have a variety of plans for seniors, instead of having a failed HMO called the federal government try to manage your plan for you," he added.