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Bush vows to aid national parks

On the foggy banks of a salmon spawning ground, George W. Bush promised to spend $4.9-billion on national parks that he said rival Al Gore had left "crumbling."

Seeking to regain his footing after weeks of gains by Gore, Bush kicked off a three-day Western campaign swing on one of the vice president's favorite subjects and in a region the Texas governor described as a "battleground of environment war and environmental policy."

Democrats mocked his environmental record.

"Gov. Bush is the worst governor on environmental issues in 50 states," said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., director of the Environmental Law Project at Pace University. "There may be a good reason to vote for Gov. Bush, but it's not his environmental record."

Bush headed next for California _ for the first time in more than a month. Republicans there are complaining that he hasn't done enough to close poll deficits ranging as high as 13 percentage points.

"He really has to put a lot more time and effort into the state if he wants to have a shot at making it competitive," said Ron Unz, the Republican software entrepreneur who ran a successful 1998 ballot initiative meant to end bilingual education. Unz also ran for U.S. Senate this year.

At a campaign stop at the Asian Garden Mall in Little Saigon near Los Angeles, Bush predicted he would win California and promised more visits.

Bush aides said this week's swing, with its longer daily schedule and slate of fundraisers, would allay concerns and stabilize a campaign knocked off-stride almost daily by Gore's challenges on everything from tax cut policy to advertising tactics.

Bush kicked off the trip with criticism that the Clinton-Gore administration has let national parks crumble into a state of being "at risk and at the breaking point" because of needed repairs and updates. Bush said too many federal dollars were spent acquiring land and not enough maintaining properties.

"Under this administration, the parks are in worse shape than ever before," Bush, reading from a TelePrompTer, told supporters gathered on Dale Reiner's 300-acre Angus beef farm. "For eight years, this administration has talked of environmentalism while our national parks are crumbling."

He pledged to push Congress to spend about $4.9-billion more to pay for a backlog of repairs on deteriorating highways and tourist attractions and to purify polluted streams in national parks.

Democrats derided Bush's environmental record, pointing out that he supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Clinton-Gore administration has a long list of environmental initiatives including 13 new national parks and a plan for $7.8-billion to help protect the Everglades. Gore opposes drilling in the arctic refuge.