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Veep makes pitch to miners, steelworkers and gun owners

by Martha Bryson Hodel

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HUNTINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore on Saturday pitched for support from steelworkers and the coal industry, key constituencies that could determine the outcome of the presidential race in West Virginia.

"We need more and better jobs for steelworkers and we need to look out for the coal miners and the workers in the steel industry in West Virginia," the Democratic presidential nominee told several thousand people at a noon rally at Tri-State Airport.

"I will be a president of the working people," Gore said.

Gore said he is committed to developing technology that will allow coal to be burned in electric generating plants without polluting the air.

"I believe in my heart our energy and environment's future depends on our willingness to invest in using our energy resources more efficiently, ... create more jobs in the process and put our people to work building the technology we can sell all around the world," Gore said.

Democrats outnumber Republicans in West Virginia 2-1, but polls indicate the presidential race between Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush is about even.

The United Steelworkers of America, which represents about 11,500 workers in West Virginia, has endorsed Gore. But the Independent Steelworkers Union of 4,000 Weirton Steel Corp. workers has endorsed Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

The union, which is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO, says the Clinton-Gore administration has been too slow acting against illegal steel dumping.

The United Mine Workers has endorsed Gore, but the industry generally opposes him because of his support for international global warming treaties that they say would lead to tighter regulation of the production and use of coal.

Bush supporters say the Republican nominee, with roots in the oil industry, would be sympathetic to energy-producing states such as West Virginia.

Gore also talked about Social Security and his proposal to have Medicare pay for prescription drugs, which is important in a state with the highest median age in the nation at 38.9.

His pitch to raise the minimum wage by $1 and create more jobs also was directed at West Virginia, a heavily unionized state with an unemployment rate usually higher than the national rate.

Gore also counterattacked the National Rifle Association, which has targeted him in West Virginia and other states.

"They are trying to convince you we are trying to take guns away from hunters and sportsmen and law-abiding gun owners," the vice president said. "And that is false."

West Virginia is home to more than 350,000 hunters.

"I believe we need some common sense safety measures to keep guns out of schools and the hands of children," Gore said.

Gore arrived about an hour late and was accompanied by U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., as a recording of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" played.

Other Democrats who joined Gore at podium were Rep. Bob Wise, the Democratic nominee for governor and Jim Humphreys, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 2nd District.

Those who attended the rally said they were not disappointed.

Gore bussed Patty R. Davis, 73, of Kenova.

"I can't believe he kissed me. I thought for sure I was going to faint," Davis said. "I'm never going to wash my cheek. I used to think he was wonderful, now I think he is out of this world."

Her sister, Nancy P. Farley of Proctorville, Ohio, said she is voting for Gore.

"I have never seen the economy doing as well as it is now, especially in West Virginia," she said. "The president is supposed to be our tool, our voice and we've got to have somebody like Gore who is on our side."

Lucy Rollins of Kenova said, "He's going to be a good leader for our nation. I believe he takes a sincere approach to the country's problems."

One man in the crowd was arrested. His name and the reason for his arrest were not immediately available.

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