ORLANDO, Fla. - Republican Gov. George W. Bush headed home yesterday with parting shots at the integrity of Democratic Vice President Al Gore targeted for voters in two battleground states - Florida and Pennsylvania.
"My opponent has unfortunately spent the week misleading Americans," Bush said in Orlando during a satellite-carried address to the Pennsylvania Republican Party as he finished an upbeat, two-day campaign tour of Florida.
Bush is questioning Gore's political motives and truthfulness on issues ranging from the Clinton administration's decision this week to release some of the nation's petroleum reserves to ease an oil crisis to a campaign-trail story Gore told about his mother-in-law's prescription drug costs.
"Obviously, you can't take Bush's word for it when he says he will talk about issues," Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway replied yesterday.
Bush's assaults follow a week free of the pratfalls that have troubled him and the GOP since Labor Day. They are aimed at breaking an apparent lead that Gore has claimed in national opinion polling, as well as advancing Bush's cause in critical electoral states like Florida.
"It'll be close," Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother of the GOP nominee, said of the contest in his home state. "The vice president is not going away, and my brother won't either.
"We're a swing state in national politics. We have a lot of independent voters," he said. "Of course I'm worried. I want him to win. ... I'm always worried."
Gore will return to Florida tomorrow, as he begins a week campaigning on proposals for improving Medicare for senior citizens. He will start with a rally in St. Petersburg, a Gulf Coast retirement center that has favored Democratic candidates in recent presidential elections.
Bush's week began at a maternity ward in Kentucky and ended with a promise in one of Florida's retirement communities to boost federal spending for cancer research.
His two-day tour of Florida, ending with a sweaty and energizing rally yesterday morning for 1,000 people crowded in the white-floored airplane hangar of the Orlando Magic basketball team, demonstrated the organizational ability of the Bush campaign in Florida.
Bush has also taken on the role of attack dog:
He is striving to cast the Clinton administration's draw on the nation's oil reserves as a naked political move for Gore.
"He's talking about the strategic oil reserve," Bush said in Orlando. "He's using it as if it's the strategic political reserve to bail him out with 45 days to go before the election."
"Bush will do anything to get the issue off oil prices, because he is in the pocket of the oil industry," Hattaway replied. "The Texas oil ticket is obviously defensive, because they have been making excuses for supporters in the oil industry while Al Gore is fighting to cut oil prices."
Bush, citing Gore's claim that he has been a part of discussions over the oil reserve since its inception, targeted this as another example of misstatements.
"His misrepresentations are serious business," Bush said in his satellite address to Pennsylvania's GOP.
Gore was a newspaper reporter in Tennessee when Congress created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in 1975, and elected to Congress a year later.