GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Vice President Al Gore campaigned Monday in what he called "ground zero" in the battle over who will be the next president of the United States.
Speaking on a stage decorated with straw bales and pumpkins, the Democratic presidential candidate shed his suit coat in the afternoon sun, telling a downtown crowd of about 2,000 cheering, poster-waving supporters that temperatures were chilly.
"But I am hot. And I am telling you, this election is hot," he said. "This race is close. Have you noticed Wisconsin is ground zero for this election? ... As goes Wisconsin so goes the nation in this race.
"I need your help. I want you to get involved, passionately," said Gore, urging the crowd to ask the undecided voters in the Fox Valley to "swing their votes" to him in the coming days.
Nancy Smits, 38, of De Pere, said she was leaning toward voting for Gore and was impressed that he would come to her neighborhood so late in the campaign. It shows "we really are a very important state for him," she said. "I don't think anybody has the state locked up yet."
Carl Pope, executive director of the national Sierra Club, said the race is close in Wisconsin because independents and liberals have indicated a willingness to support Green Party candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
Gore's mission now is to lure the liberals and activist environmentalists back to his camp, Pope said. "You can't influence what is in the water you drink by voting for Nader," he said. "The real choice is Gore."
Gore traveled through Wisconsin as part of his Great Lakes Prosperity Tour and he planned stops at Fond du Lac and Waukesha later in the day.
On a stage adorned with the banner "Titletown for Gore," a reference to Green Bay because of the National Football League championships won by the Packers, Gore campaigned with his wife, Tipper, vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, and U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.
Lieberman had the harshest words for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"Honestly, George Bush is not ready to be president of the United States," the Connecticut senator said.
Kohl, one of Wisconsin's most popular and well-liked politicians who faces Republican John Gillespie Nov. 7, said Gore has the maturity, the experience and the judgment to be president.
"He is a man of the highest integrity and he cares about the country more than anybody I know," the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks said. "He's a man I'd trust to do the right thing."
In his speech, Gore joked about Kohl and the senator's low-key style.
"I know I am not always the most exciting politician like Herb Kohl, but I will work hard for you every day and never let you down," Gore told the crowd packed into the Brown County Courthouse square.
Across the street, several critics of Gore carried signs, including one saying: "I like motorcycles, PWC (personal watercraft), snowmobiles, ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and guns. I guess you don't have my vote."
Gore reacted to one sign that proclaimed "Hunters for Gore." Gore said he was for gun control that keeps guns out of the hands of children and stalkers.
"There's not a single thing in our agenda that affects hunters or sportsmen," Gore said. "Anyone who tells you otherwise is engaging in a smear campaign."
The vice president urged the crowd to penetrate the political "smokescreen" of what's best for families, Wisconsin and the nation and realize so much is at stake in who wins the presidency, including the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.
"There are going to be three, maybe four and possibly five justices appointed by the president elected eight days from now," Gore said. "That means equal rights and women's rights and civil rights and disability rights and federalism and antitrust law and the basic interpretation of our Constitution the next 30 to 40 years is very much on the ballot."
Bush's "giant" tax cut would go mostly to the wealthy, said Gore, indicating he would use the projected federal surplus to balance the budget and pay down the debt, which would keep interest rates down and create more new jobs.
Patti Cohen, a 57-year-old Green Bay nurse, said she attended the rally to get some emotional support to work for Gore, because she was anxious about how undecided voters would cast their ballots.
After President Clinton carried Wisconsin in the last two elections, Gore is in trouble in the state because of Clinton, Cohen said.
"I think it is the Clinton scandal. I really do," the nurse said. "My mother voted for Clinton but she will not vote for Gore because of what Clinton did."
On the Net:
Gore campaign: http://www.algore.com
Bush campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com
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