Texas to Gore: Attack Our Guy and We'll Make Fun of Your Cowboy Boots

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"It's a metaphor for everything!"

That was how one Gore aide explained his man's nakedly opportunistic pounce on the Lone Star State's budgetary problems — a way to hit George W. Bush precisely where he lives by turning the governor's Texas record against him. In fact, Gore got so excited about this, he tore up his Washington-bound AF2 manifest and landed in San Antonio on Thursday. Forget the Alamo. Remember Boston Harbor.

But denizens of the land of Bush don't appreciate being held up to the nation as a paragon of fiscal mismanagement in a game of political ping-pong. Especially when the ballyhooed $610 million in cost overruns, mainly in social programs for which the demand has risen with the state's booming economy and burgeoning population, aren't a real deficit. In fact, state comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander (a very defensive Republican this week) announced that the state would see an estimated $1.1 billion surplus — more than enough, she said, to pay for the overruns. Sorry, Al, but that's just as good as the imaginary surpluses they're racking up in Washington.

It says it right on the bumper sticker: Don't Mess With Texas. As Gore threw rocks from afar, Texas Monthly publisher Michael Levy quickly announced the till-November formation of the Proud of Texas Committee, a small "truth squad" of the state's bright lights worried about their image. "During this campaign, as in many others, I have observed that facts sometimes get bent or broken in reporting on a state as large and varied as Texas," said one member. "We want to keep the information that is disseminated about our state honest from now until the end of the election."

Then the Dallas Morning News made fun of Gore's cowboy boots.

Perhaps aware that the facts of the fiscal story wasn't going to support him for long, when Gore landed in San Antonio he bounced away from the budget issue, complaining instead about Bush's tax cuts (too many) and health-care spending (not enough), and then flat out insulting his audience by crediting Bush's winning personality as the main reason for his popularity. (Translation: You're so dumb, you've been had.) Gore trails by 37 points in Texas, and he sure wasn't there figuring to snag the state's electoral jackpot. The message was for the other 49 — look at this mess! Look at these suckers! "The presidency," he said at an insta-forum in the land of the Alamo, "is not a popularity contest."

And then Gore left Texas. Fast. And that might be a metaphor too.