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Running mates give presidential debates one last 'spin'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With just three weeks before Election Day, vice presidential running mates Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney were eager to jump into the post-debate fray minutes after Al Gore and George W. Bush concluded their final and perhaps most heated presidential debate.

Lieberman
Sen. Joe Lieberman  

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman watched the 90-minute town-hall style debate from inside the debate hall in St. Louis. Republican rival Dick Cheney tuned in from the campaign trail in Florida with Bush's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.

After two debates without decisive moments, it was a chance for both presidential candidates to attempt to break the stalemate that has defined this race to the White House -- regarded by many as the closest since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon squared off in 1960.

Lieberman said it was Bush -- running against eight years of economic prosperity under the Clinton administration -- who had the most to prove, but came up short.

"Gov. Bush didn't give the public any reason to change horses here," Lieberman told CNN. "We're the party that's brought America its prosperity and surpluses and low unemployment. We're the ones who can keep it going."

During the debate, the GOP nominee painted Gore as a proponent of big government whose spending proposals could jeopardize the booming economy. Bush also argued that Gore's targeted tax plan only favors those whom the Democratic nominee thinks "are the right kind of people."

"He didn't get away with it tonight," said Lieberman. "Gov. Bush tried a lot of the stuff that he has gotten away with in the campaign so far, and Al Gore was right there on target with the facts. The fact is that it is Governor Bush who's overspending the projected surplus, and Al Gore is staying within the surplus."

The vice president denounced Bush's across-the board tax cut plan as a break for the richest Americans and stressed the strength of the economy over the past eight years. In response, Cheney was quick to argue his belief that the Clinton administration had little hand in creating the prosperity.

"I think it's just simply not accurate to give Al Gore and Bill Clinton all of the credit for a successful economy," Cheney told CNN. "The main thing was the engine that is the American economy, 270 million Americans who get up every day and go to work out there and are the ones who have really generated this enormous wealth."

"I think Governor Bush was very effective at countering this notion that this tax plan is skewed to the rich," Cheney added.

Cheney
Dick Cheney  

The former defense secretary also stressed the need to rebuild the military -- his signature campaign issue -- and argued that Gore has purposely ignored what he called the Clinton administration's neglect of the armed services.

"It's a very serious problem, it's not just a difference of opinion. He makes these statements as if there's absolutely nothing wrong in the U.S. military, and then says ... we're going to spend $100 million to fix it. You can't have it both ways," Cheney said.

As the debate approached its end, the subject turned to campaign finance reform. Gore pledged that he would sign bipartisan legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to overhaul the current system. Bush largely opposes the legislation, arguing that the measure gives Democrats an unfair advantage because it does not place the same restrictions on labor unions that it does on corporations.

McCain, who opposed Bush in the Republican primary, acknowledged his differences with Bush over the campaign finance issue -- but said Bush agrees with the most parts of the bill, and he criticized Gore for questionable fund-raising activities during the 1996 election.

As for Gore's pledge, the Arizona senator told CNN: "The vice president does not have a lot of credibility on this issue, because he and the president debased the institutions of government in 1996."

But House Minority Leader, Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, argued that Gore, not Bush, would sign a comprehensive campaign finance measure into law.

"Al Gore is for the McCain-Feingold bill. In fact, he said it will be the first bill that he sends to the new Congress if he's president," Gephardt said. "George Bush is really not very enthusiastic about it at all. I'm not sure it would be his tenth bill sent to Congress."

 
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WHERE THEY STAND
See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

ELECTION GUIDE
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Wednesday, October 18, 2000


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