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Candidates Debate Economy, Social Security in Key States

By Dan Balz and Mike Allen
THE WASHINGTON POST -- A gravelly voiced Al Gore pleaded with Illinois voters Thursday to deliver him a big victory there on Tuesday as his campaign launched a new negative ad in the battleground states that attacks George W. Bush on taxes and Social Security and sharply questions his rival’s readiness to be president.

Gore drew tens of thousands of people at a rally in Chicago, where he declared, “We’re going to win Illinois on Tuesday ... and take the presidency.” But his presence in Illinois highlighted the strides Bush has made there over the past few weeks after seemingly abandoning the state earlier in the fall.

Bush swept into the Chicago suburbs hours after Gore’s visit to pump up his own forces, imploring them to help turn out a vote big enough to spring an upset in a state considered leaning to the vice president. “We’re going to confound the pundits,” Bush said. “Illinois is Bush-Cheney country.”

The back-to-back visits put Illinois at the heart of another competitive day on the campaign trail, but with far more states in play than days remaining until Election Day, Bush and Gore continued to dash through other states crucial to the outcome of the closest race in four decades, their visits carefully planned to reach the media markets where a visit by the candidates could help the most.

Bush arrived in Illinois after a big rally in Missouri, one of the country’s true bellwether states, where he briefly crossed paths with the motorcade of Gore’s running mate Joseph Lieberman. After Illinois he headed north to Wisconsin, which has voted Democratic in the last three elections but remains close. Gore came to Chicago after a rally in Pennsylvania, a battleground state where he maintains a small advantage, then headed west to New Mexico, whose five electoral votes loom larger than ever.

It was in Missouri that Bush stepped into another verbal thicket seeming to suggest that perhaps Social Security, the most popular federal government program, isn’t a government program at all.