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Lawrence Republicans rally for Bush visit

Local Republicans planned a caravan today from party headquarters in Ironton to Huntington, W.

Monday, October 02, 2000

Local Republicans planned a caravan today from party headquarters in Ironton to Huntington, W.Va., to hear their candidate speak at a surprise campaign stop.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, contending with Vice President Al Gore for election as the nation’s commander in chief, is stopping on the banks of the Ohio River this afternoon.

The stop in traditionally Democratic West Virginia comes as Bush makes his way north to Boston for the candidates’ first debate, potentially the most influential of any presidential election since 1960.

"Everyone’s excited," Lawrence County GOP headquarters director Jimmy Gore said this morning.

"We’re taking a group up to help with the rally," Gore said. "There ought to be a pretty good delegation from Lawrence County there."

Republicans planned to meet about 11:50 a.m. at party headquarters in the Ironton Hills Plaza, then drive together to Huntington for the 1:45 p.m. rally at Harris Riverfront Park.

This weekend, before Bush began his trip to Huntington, campaign officials said they were encouraged by news Bush and Gore are tied in traditionally Democratic-leaning states.

His campaign was touting polls in West Virginia and in Gore’s native Tennessee showing the two tied, as they are nationwide.

”No matter how you cut it, that’s good news for Governor Bush,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. ”The vice president is struggling to even be in the race in places where he should have sewn up along time ago.”

That’s true for Bush, too, in Florida, where his brother Jeb is governor and the legislature is Republican-run. Gore, who is being outspent by Bush there, spent the weekend practicing for debates in Sarasota.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, a two-hour drive from Austin, the Republican presidential nominee and Texas governor said over the weekend that he sees the rest of the election campaign as a sprint.

”We’ve got five weeks to go,” he said. ”Three weeks of debates and two weeks of turning out the vote. I like to come here to this place to get my batteries recharged. It helps clear my mind.”

Bush was going for symbolism today by attending the rally with West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood in Huntington. The state, whose economy his heavily dependent on coal mining, also complements Bush’s speech Friday on energy policy.

”Governor Bush understands that there is a strong reservoir of support for him among working families in West Virginia,” said John McCutcheon, director of Bush’s West Virginia campaign. ”Bush recognizes coal plays a fundamental role in a balanced energy policy.”

Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 in West Virginia, and the state has voted for Republican presidential candidates only three times since the 1920s. Every time, it involved an incumbent re-elected in a national landslide: Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984.

This year, recent polls show the candidates tied or Gore slightly ahead for West Virginia’s five electoral votes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.