Fighting Over Florida

Jeb Bush
There was no slowing down for either major presidential campaign on the Sunday talk show circuit during the final weekend of the closest race in four decades.

Surrogates for Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush spun their candidate's chances in the battleground states on CBS News' Face The Nation.

One key state is Florida, where Bush's brother Jeb is governor. Earlier this campaign, the Sunshine State was considered a given for the GOP nominee. But in the final days of the race, Florida remains up for grabs.

"We never felt that it was a lock. We've worked very hard from the beginning. We're ahead now because of that, and I think in the end you're going to see Florida in the (Bush) column," said Jeb Bush.

Bush added that Gore has his problems of his own in other states where he should be strong.

"It's a strange year that Vice President Gore has to keep going back to Tennessee, and we're winning in West Virginia and Minnesota and Wisconsin, these places where President Clinton carried those states quite handily," Bush said. "We're in a different time now, and Florida's part of that. But my brother is going to carry the state."

Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley told Face The Nation that Florida's governor won't be able to deliver his state to Texas' governor.

"I have great sympathy for him because his brother's running and he's got a lot of pressure on him. But I think he'll come up short on Election Day as far as Florida's concerned," Daley said of Jeb Bush.

"We feel very good," he added. We have lots of enthusiasm. Al's going to be there, Joe Lieberman's going to be there. And so we look forward to Florida being in the column Democratic on Tuesday night."

Then again, Gore is far from home free in his home state of Tennessee, which has trended Republican for years.

"It's a hotly contested fight here in Tennessee. But the people from Tennessee understand and appreciate what Al Gore can do for this state and for the nation when he's president," Daley said.

During the program, Jeb Bush also defended his brother's latest verbal faux pas: that Social Security is not a federal program.

"It was a misstatement, because what he wants it to be is more than just a federal program," he said.

After saying that no one - his brother, Gore, or himself - is perfect, Bush added, "You know, lighten up a little bit. This is the end of a campaign. Both of them are campaigning 16 hours a day. Missing a word should not be the end of the world."

Bush said he didn't know about his brother's DUI arrest at the time it happened in 1976 - an arrest that only became public within the last few days.

"The strange part of this was it was a surprise when I saw it," he said. "That's not to say that my brother wasn't a little rambunctious when he was a young adult. And he has changed, and that's why I tink he'll be a great president."

The Gore camp's Daley fielded questions on the vice president's recent criticisms of George W. Bush. At a Memphis prayer breakfast on Saturday, Gore said, "I am taught that deep within us we have the capacity for good and evil. I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome, and I feel it coming."

But, Daley explained about Gore, "He was not talking about a person. It was a comment that, as I say, he's used over the years, about the struggles that go on in all of our lives between good and evil."

And before a predominantly black congregation in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the vice president implied that the Texas governor was racially insensitive for not taking a stand on the Confederate flag in South Carolina, and for his promise to appoint "strict constructionists" - or jurists who interpret the Constitution narrowly - to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written, how some people were considered three-fifths of a human being." said Gore, referring to when the Constitution defined black slaves as three-fifths of a person. Republicans have cried foul over that remark ever since.

"The truth is people who described themselves then as 'strict constructionists' did believe that," said Daley, apparently referring to the Constitution's framers. "That's a fact. There's no dispute over that. And this is a tough campaign, no doubt about it."

Daley, the former Commerce secretary, was pressed about whether the Gore campaign really thought Bush or any of his supporters were that kind of a "strict constructionist".

"To many African-Americans, when they hear a presidential candidate use the phrase 'strict constructionist', they think back to when that phrase was used, and to them it has a serious meaning," he said. "So if you're going to use phrases like that, you better have an obligation to explain and define, or don't use phrases like that."