Final presidential push starts in Texas for Bush and Gore
AUSTIN, Texas -- Both the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees chose Texas on Sunday to be the launch pad for their final campaign efforts in the remaining 16 days of the race for the White House.
The Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, was in Austin to launch his "Brainstorm for Reform" tour with 28 other GOP governors. Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic rival, was in Dallas to begin a two-pronged endgame of wooing undecided voters and getting his backers to the polls.
Meanwhile, the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup tracking poll shows Bush is the current preference of 50 percent of likely voters, while Gore is the current preference of 41 percent. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Interviews with 700 likely voters were conducted from October 19 to 21. While the poll shows Bush maintaining a solid lead over Gore among likely voters, there is plenty of time left in which events can shift voters' current preferences.
Nine states, 160 electoral votes
"I can't think of a better way to kick off the last two weeks of this campaign than stand up with my colleagues, encourage them to go out and invigorate the grass-roots organizations that we have in place all across the country," Bush said in Austin.
The Republican governors have scheduled 45 stops in 25 states through Wednesday. Bush will visit nine states this week which carry a total of 160 electoral votes.
He will team up with four governors on Monday in Midwestern states where he hopes to make inroads. Bush will campaign in Kansas City, Missouri; Des Moines, Iowa; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and prominent Republican women including McCain's wife Cindy, and Lynne Cheney, wife of GOP vice-presidential nominee Dick Cheney, also will make a campaign appearance with Bush.
Gore appears at church dedication
Gore chose the dedication of a new 8,000-seat sanctuary at Potter's House church, the ministry of the Rev. T.D. Jakes in Dallas, Texas, to attack Hollywood's "toxic entertainment."
The vice president said there was "too much explicit sexuality aimed at families at times when young children are watching.
"This is a problem that must be addressed," he said. "Both with explicit sexuality and with violence, there are those who say it is not a problem -- it doesn't affect people. Well, it does."
Gore's Sunday schedule also included stops in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for dedication of the National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, and Portland State University in Oregon.
'Kitchen table' campaign
Aides said Gore would make a series of major speeches on key issues in the last 16 days -- starting with Sunday's speech on his families agenda -- and meet individual families around the country in a "kitchen table" campaign.
His organization also plans to mobilize thousands of volunteers for what they said would be an unprecedented effort to get out the vote.
Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile said, "I told the strategists and advertising people several months ago that if they get us within the margin of difference ... we could pull it off on the ground.
"You can make up five, six points on the ground in the final weeks of the campaign."
Brazile said the campaign was also redeploying up to 3,000 volunteers from safe states to battleground states to help turn out Gore voters at the polls.
Newspapers make their picks
Meanwhile, third-party candidates touted the importance of their role in U.S. politics. Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin said on NBC's "Meet The Press," "Third parties in America have always done the most important things.
"All of the important innovations came from third parties. The right of women to vote, abolition of slavery, child labor laws, a balanced budget: These ideas and most others came from third party candidates."
Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne said on the same program that voting Republican or Democratic means "you're giving up.
"You're saying I'll never be free, I'm never going to have a smaller government. I'm going to pay income tax for the rest of my life. I'm going to pay Social Security for the rest of my life. So I'm just going to vote for whoever will take me to hell at the slowest possible rate," he said.
Newspapers on Sunday began lining up behind the candidates, with The Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle endorsing Gore.
Bush received backing from The (Portland) Oregonian, The Seattle Times, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, The Detroit News and The Dallas Morning News.
Focus shifts to Electoral College
With the national race so close, attention is moving to the state-by-state contest to win the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
One estimate by veteran political analyst Hal Bruno for the Politics.com Internet site gave Bush 213 electoral votes and Gore 186, with 139 votes up for grabs and too close to call.
But individual state polls in the Midwest appeared to indicate that Gore's position was weakening in the toughest battleground of the nation.
An Illinois poll, for example, showed him leading on Sunday by just 45 percent to 43 percent, well within the poll's margin of error. Last month, the vice president led by a double-digit figure in that state.
Reuters contributed to this report.