Al Gore made a Spokane pitch for votes from students, women and - most important - people who dislike Newt Gingrich.
The vice president joked, cajoled and shouted Monday at a late-campaign stop designed as much to boost the chances of Democratic congressional candidate Judy Olson as to win re-election for Bill Clinton and himself.
“The Dole-Gingrich Congress and those who marched in lock step with them simply went too far,” he told a cheering crowd of some 4,000 students and Democratic activists at Spokane Falls Community College.
Gore didn’t mention Olson’s opponent, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, by name.
But there was little doubt whom he meant when criticizing Republicans who voted against an increase in the minimum wage, and to repeal a ban on assault weapons and change Medicare as part of “reckless budget cutting for tax advantages for the rich.”
Nethercutt countered with an event of his own, later in the day, to say Gore was wrong about the GOP Medicare plan, and his loyalty to Gingrich.
Savings in the GOP plan would have been “dedicated” to preserving Medicare, he said.
The disagreement is part politics but also a result of the way Republicans tried to pass their Medicare plan. After approving the plan by itself, they attached it to the 1995 budget plan, which included major tax cuts. Democrats contend the Medicare reforms were paying for the tax cuts.
As for voting with Gingrich, Nethercutt said he voted for things he believes his constituents support - such as a balanced budget amendment, tax cuts, less federal spending and term limits.
“Newt Gingrich supports them. I support them. The district supports them,” he said.
Although his campaign scheduled senior citizens specifically to counter the Gore rally, Nethercutt told reporters he doubted the vice president’s visit would boost Olson’s chances.
“My opponent has now become a foot soldier in Mr. Gore’s ‘War on the West,”’ he charged. “Vice President Gore is no friend of the 5th District and the natural resource based economy.”
But Gore stuck to broad national themes in his speech, not mentioning any contentious regional issues in which the federal government plays a major role.
While he made passing references to “the environment,” there was no mention of the controversial “Timber Salvage Rider” which allows for many federal regulations to be suspended to remove trees from lands affected by fire, disease or insects. There was no mention of the Endangered Species Act, which affects the Columbia and Snake River system and the federal dams. No mention of the cleanup of nuclear weapons waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Instead, Gore hit heavily on education at the rally designed to energize the crowd and carry them into the voting booth on Nov. 5. At times, Gore seemed more like an entertainer, lacing his speech with oneliners that poked fun at his alleged stiffness and returning to the stage for an encore wave during a recording of “Twist and Shout.” “We don’t want to put government on the wall as a trophy, we want to fix it,” he said. “We want to expand Head Start and expand the ability of students to finance a college education.”
He asked how many in the crowd had student loans, and hands went up all across the gymnasium. The administration would propose a credit of $1,500 to help first year college students pay for their tuition, he said. Students who maintain a B average and stay off drugs would be eligible for the same tax credit the second year.
There would also be a $10,000 tax deduction for college costs, he said. He also cited statistics on lower deficits, lower unemployment and lower crime rates in making the case for re-election.
“When you have strong growth and declining inflation, that’s kind of what you want,” he deadpanned.
Nethercutt argued a few hours later that the lower deficits were a result of the Republican Congress, not the administration. But in fact, the deficit has decreased for the last four years - including two years in which the Democrats controlled Congress.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)