CLEVELAND: Appearing in a poor, Spanish-speaking neighborhood on Cleveland's west side -- uncertain territory at best for a Republican -- George W. Bush unveiled a plan yesterday to lift those on the fringes of poverty into the middle class.
``At the edges of affluent communities, there are those living in prosperity's shadow,'' said Bush, addressing an audience of about 250 at the West Side Ecumenical Ministry on Detroit Avenue. ``The same economy that is a miracle for millions of Americans is a mystery for millions as well.''
Expanding on previous tax-cut and education plans, Bush proposed providing tax credits for health insurance and for personal savings, and he outlined a new program of cash assistance for homeownership. Estimated cost: $42 billion.
``The setting was unusual, but I think he wanted to send a message,'' said Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett. ``You have to reach out to win presidential elections.''
Bennett praised the presumptive GOP nominee's move to the middle.
``George Voinovich governed Cleveland with compassionate conservatism for a long time,'' Bennett said of the former mayor and former governor, now a U.S. senator.
Gore visits schools
But the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee, Vice President Al Gore, wasn't giving an inch in Ohio. He campaigned in the state Monday night and all day yesterday, reaching out to independent and undecided voters at a suburban Dayton high school and stressing his ideas on reforming education in a visit to a Columbus elementary school.
Gore campaign surrogates and Democratic Party officials, meanwhile, launched sharp attacks against Bush's record in Texas on health care, education and the appointment of a police official who once made racist slurs.
But the latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll showed Bush leading among likely voters 50 percent to 41 percent.
Gore spent much of the day yesterday at Avondale Elementary School in Columbus, part of a pledge to spend a day at a school every week or two in his campaign. Gore ate a hot dog lunch with the children and worked with fifth-graders on geometry, building triangles and parallelograms with colored shapes.
He also released an ``education blue book'' summarizing his education proposals, which include universal preschool for 4-year-olds, smaller class sizes, testing new teachers, and making sure new and current teachers are qualified to teach their subjects.
Education is a top issue for Ohio voters and one that is likely to remain in the news because of an upcoming Ohio Supreme Court ruling on the state's funding formula.
But Gore also encountered nettlesome questions about a hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool -- an issue he addressed in the 1992 campaign only to see the plant continue to operate -- and about Monica Lewinsky.
``I'm running for president on my own, on the basis of my own vision'' Gore told voters in Vandalia, a Dayton suburb, on Monday night.
Bush sees El Barrio
Before Bush appeared at the West Side Ecumenical Ministry, a consortium of faith-based ministries that provides services such as job training, nutrition and even a youth theater, he toured another faith-based social agency in Cleveland: El Barrio on West 65th Street.
Such stops have been a key part of Bush's effort to cast himself as a ``compassionate conservative.'' He has also been a proven vote-getter among Hispanics in Texas.
Accompanied by Gov. Bob Taft, his campaign chief in Ohio, Bush toured classrooms at El Barrio, observing adult students learning English, preparing resumes and taking a class on how to be bank tellers.
El Barrio was founded 10 years ago by Dr. Nelson Bardecio, a local pastor, to serve the Spanish-speaking neighborhood. About 800 people a month use its services, which include nutritional programs and crisis intervention.
``I was surprised,'' said one of the program coordinators, Yolanda Figueroa, about Bush's visit. And although she's happy he came, she's ``still thinking about'' whom she will support in the November election.
``I think the points the governor touched on are very important for the people I serve,'' said Bardecio. ``This means poor people. More than 75 percent of the Spanish community is poor and needs some kind of guidance and help to reach better levels of life,'' he said.
How will residents vote?
``I don't know,'' Bardecio said. He said he's been too busy to reach a decision about the candidates himself.
But he said Bush's visit was a start. ``They see that he is here, talking with the people -- that's important.''
The Associated Press contributed to this report.