Gore Greets Children, Not Bush
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (AP) _ It was Vice President Al Gore, not Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush, who greeted children at a local elementary school Friday. His slogan: ``Kids over cash.″
The Democratic presidential hopeful deftly changed his campaign schedule to talk to the mostly Hispanic students at the Ella Risk School after Bush canceled his visit Wednesday.
Bad weather delayed the GOP front-runner’s plane and he chose to attend his only other campaign stop in Rhode Island _ a $1,000-plate fund raiser in Providence.
Rhode Island’s Republican governor, Lincoln Almond, stood in for Bush at the school Thursday. He said Bush’s cancellation is ``not even a blip″on his campaign record, and political analysts agreed Friday.
But Gore’s campaign did their best to use the visit to score some political points.
``We’ll choose kids over cash every day. Our campaign is driven more by compassion than conservatism,″ Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said.
In a crowded, hot auditorium, Gore took off his suit jacket, greeted students in Spanish and knelt down to give high-fives before he left.
Eager for the ``kiddie press conference″ that was scheduled for Bush’s visit, children asked questions on everything from Gore’s daily tasks to the kind of car he drives _ a Mercury Sable. When one little girl asked if he liked being vice president, Gore said, ``I like it. It’s fun but I think president would be even better.″
Teachers chuckled at Gore’s jokes and students said ``he was a nice guy.″
``They always say that he is stiff but I didn’t see that at all,″ said teacher Sue Rouleau.
``I didn’t know he spoke Spanish,″ said fifth grader Taisha Gonzalez, translating the message. ``He told us that in his family, education is important and that in all families _ Puerto Rican and Dominican _ education should be important too.″
Central Falls, a city of 17,000, has the state’s highest child-poverty rate. At least a third of the city’s residents are Latino and Bush had planned to show off his rapport with the Hispanic community.
Rhode Island’s Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch said Bush’s cancellation was ``a monumental blunder by the Bush campaign and we took advantage of that absolutely.″
Bush’s spokesperson said the governor had no other choice but to cancel the school visit and criticized Gore for stealing his thunder.
``It even looks desperate,″ Bush spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said.
The good news for the Bush campaign is that the ``political blunder″ is likely to only be a temporary embarrassment _ at least in Rhode Island, said political observer at the University of Rhode Island Marc Genest.
``Rhode Island is inconsequential in the Republican Primary. You can afford to lose,″ Genest said.
But Genest says there may be one lasting affect in a presidential race that still has a long way to go.
``It reinforced the idea that (Bush) is a moneymaking machine and nothing else,″ Genest said.
Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, agreed Bush’s no show was a mistake and said Gore’s visit was blatant grandstanding.
``But grandstanding works.″ West said. ``And kids over cash is a catchy sound bite.″