Bush, Gore in dead even race coming out of debates

The Associated Press
Thursday October 19, 2000

ST. LOUIS — Al Gore and George W. Bush traded parting debate shots, the vice president calling the governor an ally of big business, the Republican nominee retorting that Gore stands for more federal spending and Washington power. 

With that, the contestants in a White House race rated dead even headed into the final dash to the Nov. 7 election, urging their supporters to the polls and trying to win over uncommitted voters like those chosen to question them Tuesday night in the closing debate. 

“This is going to be a close election. Nobody should take anything for granted,” Bush told supporters at an airport rally in Eau Claire, Wis., urging them to spread the word about differences between himself and Gore emphasized by the debate. 

Bush mocked Gore’s assertion that as president, he wouldn’t increase the size of the federal government. “Now there’s a man who’s prone to exaggeration,” Bush said. 

He was taking a positive message to the TV airwaves, with a new ad featuring a black teacher talking about education and another starring his Hispanic nephew. The Democrats, meanwhile, planned ads suggesting Bush’s proposals would bankrupt Social Security, a point Gore hammered in the debate. 

“He was not able to answer the question,” Gore told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He was campaigning later in Des Moines, Iowa. 

Each man praised his own performance. “I was able to speak plainly,” Bush said, while Gore stepped on his own message by “attacking somebody all the time.” 

Gore compared his three debate showings to Goldilocks: “The first was too hot, the second was too cool. The third one was just right,” he said in the ABC interview aired Wednesday. 

Two instant network polls of debate watchers rated the final match about even. A third called it narrowly for Gore. 

To demonstrate confidence in Gore’s performance, campaign officials said Wednesday they were asking the Commission on Presidential Debates for permission to rebroadcast the entire 90-minute forum in small cable markets in battleground states. Debate rules prohibit candidates from using excerpts in campaign commercials. 

“If it’s feasible ... we’d love to do it,” said Gore strategist Carter Eskew. 

After the debate, Bush warned that an energy crisis and economic recession might be looming and said his tax-cut plan would serve “as an insurance policy against an economic slowdown.” 

“The biggest threat to economic growth is a huge federal government,” Bush told NBC’s “Today” in an interview aired Wednesday. 

Gore planned to concentrate in the final weeks on promoting himself as the steward of a strong economy, giving an economic address Thursday in New York before starting a “Big Choice: Prosperity for all” tour, stopping daily at homes or work places. He will travel by bus and boat. 

Bush and Gore both canceled their post-debate rallies out of respect for the memory of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed Monday in an airplane crash as he campaigned for the Senate. 

Gore and wife Tipper hugged Jean Carnahan on the steps of the governor’s mansion Wednesday before meeting inside with the widow, her children and grandchildren for about 45 minutes. The Carnahans’ son Roger also died in the crash. 

The debate began with a moment of silence for Carnahan, followed by 90 minutes of hard argument, the candidates striding the red carpeted stage to face their questioners and at times, to confront each other. 

“Here we go again,” Gore said after Bush had pledged to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for the elderly. “If you want someone who will spin a lot of words ... and then end up supporting legislation that is supported by the big drug companies, this is your man.” 

For his part, Bush said Gore wanted federal spending programs “three times bigger than what President Clinton proposed. ... This is a big spender.” 

The questions, selected by moderator Jim Lehrer, came from among 100 uncommitted voters who submitted them in writing. 

And they triggered the sharpest exchanges of the debate season — on affirmative action, and the question of racial quotas in hiring, for example. “If affirmative action means quotas, I’m against it,” Bush said. 

“With all due respect, governor, that’s a red herring,” Gore replied. “Affirmative action isn’t quotas. ... They’re against the American way.” And on Social Security. Gore said Bush has promised $1 trillion out of the Social Security trust fund to cover the initial cost of his plan to use part of the system’s taxes for individual retirement accounts. He said Bush has promised “the same trillion dollars” to protect the benefits of current recipients. 

“Which one of those promises will you keep and which will you break, Governor?” Gore asked. 

Bush said Gore was attacking with “an old high school debating trick” and said the trillion dollars would come out of budget surpluses. 

Gore and the Democrats weren’t accepting that. The Democratic National Committee said it will purchase $2 million in TV ads to run in 10 swing states, raising the same question Gore did. “Which promise is he going to break?” 

Bush’s new ad in 10 states features Houston teacher Phyllis Hunter, who has worked with Bush on state reading programs and praised the governor in a film aired at the Republican National Convention. She calls Bush a leader in education. 

The Bush campaign is also bringing back a Spanish-language ad featuring Bush’s nephew, George P. Bush, the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his Mexican-American wife, to air in New Mexico and three Florida markets: Miami, Orlando and Tampa.