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Bush, Gore Coming to Tenn. Saloon

December 11, 1999

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Maybe Al Gore will boot scoot. Perhaps George W. Bush will do the Texas two-step.

One thing’s for sure: Both presidential front-runners will rake in the bucks next week on successive nights at the Wildhorse Saloon, a famous honky-tonk, dance hall and occasional political venue in downtown Nashville.

For $35 a person, Gore supporters can mingle Wednesday night with the vice president and his wife Tipper and watch Aaron Neville of the Neville Brothers band, country music trio BlackHawk and disco diva Donna Summer on stage.

Comedian Al Franken is the host, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., are expected to attend.

Before the show, 300 of Gore’s friends can attend a dinner at the Wildhorse _ if they’ve collected $5,000 apiece in individual contributions.

Bush, the Texas governor and favorite in the GOP field, will offer his own lineup of star power at a $1,000-per-person reception the next night.

Co-hosts include country music stars Tracy Byrd, Loretta Lynn, Lee Greenwood, Lorrie Morgan, Travis Tritt and Hank Williams Jr., and former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, R-Tenn.

For years, Tennessee politicians and political parties have used the Wildhorse for major fund-raisers. The Nashville Network has broadcast concerts and dance shows from the tourist hotspot.

The Wildhorse features a 3,300-square-foot dance floor and stage, and can accommodate up to 2,000 people. About 1 million people a year kick up their boot heels under the upside-down papier-mache horse hanging from the ceiling.

``It’s definitely Nashville. It’s at the heart of Music City and it is the heart of Music City,″ said Greg Wanderman, executive director of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Wildhorse general manager Will Freeman said he’d love to see Gore and Bush don cowboy boots and line-dance: ``That’s what we’re all about,″ he said.

Because the fund-raisers are on different nights, there won’t be a ``showdown at the hoedown.″

But Bush would like nothing better than to tweak Gore in his home state, even though David Kustoff, chairman of Bush’s Tennessee campaign, said that’s not why Bush is coming.

``It’s because Tennessee is traditionally a swing state in presidential elections. It’s a good predictor of what the outcome will be,″ Kustoff said Friday.

So far, Gore has significantly outraised Bush in Tennessee: $1.5 million to $283,768, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Bush hopes to raise $750,000 at the Wildhorse, which would push him over $1 million in the state.

But Gore is shooting for $1.6 million with the two-tiered Wildhorse event, as well as an online and e-mail plea for donations tied to it.

``It’s our last big wrapup event of the year. We’re using everything we can to have everyone participate,″ said Eileen Kotecki, Gore’s national finance director.

Gore moved his national campaign headquarters from Washington to Nashville in October to get away from Beltway insiders and be closer to average Americans.

Since then, he has taken on a more relaxed campaign style, forgoing scripted speeches, mingling more with voters, trading coat-and-tie for a polo shirt and _ on occasion _ black cowboy boots.

Bush, who also sometimes wears cowboy boots, is making his first trip to Tennessee as a presidential candidate. Before his fund-raiser, he plans to read to students at Una Elementary School on Thursday afternoon.

Before Gore’s visit to Nashville, he plans to make a stop in Oak Ridge, just west of Knoxville, to attend a groundbreaking for the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source research facility.

Gore has long been a supporter of the facility, which is scheduled to open in 2005. Researchers from around the globe are expected to use it to study the composition of living and inorganic materials. Their research could lead to advances for products ranging from aircraft to drugs.

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