Vice President Gore campaigned through Iowa today with a nervous eye aimed at Texas Gov. George W. Bush and an urgent appeal to Democratic activists to quickly settle the Democratic nomination fight and move on to "the real battle" against the Republicans.
With Bush scheduled to campaign in Iowa on Thursday and Friday, the vice president told Democrats "the stakes are high" in 2000. He also attacked the Republican front-runner's huge campaign war chest and warned that it will be used to roll back the gains achieved over the last six years.
"The outcome of this election matters a lot," Gore told an audience of women Tuesday night in Des Moines. "The other side, the Republican side, has raised more money than anyone ever has. They don't like a lot of the changes you and I have brought about. They don't like a lot of what we call progress. And they don't want it to continue. They want to go back to some of the ways that used to exist."
Through two days of campaign appearances in Iowa, Gore never mentioned Bush by name. But from his criticism of the Texan's gun policies to his denunciation of Bush's fund-raising prowess, the vice president's focus was very much on a potential opponent whose quick start in the contest for the Republican nomination has unnerved Democratic activists allied with Gore.
Those activists have increased the pressure on Gore to put his own squabbling campaign on track as he simultaneously attempts to beat back a challenge from former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley while attempting to confront the Bush campaign.
Gore attempted to paint an alarming portrait of a Republican Party ready to reverse progress on the economy as well as on women's and civil rights issues. "They've raised all this money and they're not even slowing down," Gore said. "We need to keep our powder dry, conserve our resources, develop as much unity of purpose as we can."
In consecutive appearances, Gore reminded Democratic activists that they hold the power to free him from a potentially costly and debilitating nomination battle with Bradley to allow him to use his own resources on a general election campaign that could start earlier than ever.
Gore told the women's audience they could, "if you so decided, determine in short order the Democratic nominee for president and begin the real battle" against the Republicans. At a Des Moines coffee shop this morning, he repeated that message. "This group has the ability right now to decide who will be the Democratic nominee for president," he said.
As he toured the state, Gore focused on issues of special concern to Iowa voters. This afternoon in Cedar Rapids, he pledged to fight for emergency aid to farmers, who are suffering from historically low commodity and livestock prices.
"We have got to respond and respond quickly and give farmers the assistance that they need," Gore told a gathering of farmers who shared with him the problems they face with bumper crops and sinking prices.
Gore called for changes in the most recently enacted farm bill but said immediate assistance is a more urgent priority. "Right now we need to concentrate on the immediate cash flow crisis that farmers are facing in the next few months in order to survive," he said.
Gore also called for increased aid to help Iowa's rural communities battle a persistent crime and drug problem caused by methamphetamines.
But the subtext of his appearances was his stepped-up attention to Bush's candidacy and his effort to rally Democratic audiences with dire predictions of what a Republican administration would mean for the country on issues ranging from abortion rights to health care to gun control.
As he has before, Gore singled out Bush's positions on gun control for criticism, particularly the Texas governor's support for legislation giving citizens the right to carry concealed weapons and for a bill that would prohibit localities from suing gun manufacturers.
"Some are for more concealed weapons," he said, "but they can't conceal that they're really doing the bidding of the NRA. Some are for shielding the gun manufacturers against the kind of efforts to hold them accountable that many cities have filed and that the NAACP initiated [Monday]. I don't think we need to shield the gun manufacturers. I think we need to shield the families and the children and the victims of gun violence in this country."
Gore, who wore casual clothes throughout his visit here, used the 1998 Iowa governor's race to remind Democrats that they should not be discouraged by national polls that show him running behind Bush.
Through much of that campaign, Democrat Tom Vilsack trailed Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot. But, said Gore, Vilsack rallied with the strong support of organized labor, women and minorities and other Democratic activists the vice president is counting on in his campaign.
And then he made another reference seemingly aimed at Bush. Vilsack, he said, had a campaign of ideas. "And his Republican opponent was trying to avoid discussing the issues, right, and was ready to move into the mansion before the election," Gore said. "I don't know, maybe it's deja vu."