Bush, Gore spin debate their way as campaigning resumes
BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- On the morning after their first presidential debate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore were back on television Wednesday, dueling separately this time before leaving Boston for more campaigning.
Gore tells CNN his audible sighs in response to Bush's statements during the debate were not meant to be heard
In an interview on CNN, Democrat Gore clarified his criticism of Bush's leadership abilities. In another televised appearance, Gore was challenged on a possible exaggeration.
GOP candidate Bush started his day at a Boston campaign event where he was endorsed by the State Police Association of Massachusetts.
Later, both candidates were taking the battle to key states with Gore planning stops in Youngstown and Warren, Ohio, while Bush goes to West Chester, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia, before moving on to Ohio himself.
Gore questioned on criticism of Bush experience
In April, the vice president told The New York Times that Bush's call for a big tax cut "raises the question, 'Does he have the experience to be president?'"
But Gore told CNN on Wednesday he was not questioning Bush's overall experience -- instead, he said, he was suggesting that Bush's own tax proposals raise that question. Gore concedes, though, "Maybe that's a distinction without a difference."
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During the debate, audible sighs from the vice president displayed Gore's skepticism over Bush's claims about the economy, prescription drugs and other issues. Gore told CNN that under the debate rules, he didn't think his reactions would be seen or heard.
At the next debate, Gore says, he'll be more careful about letting his reactions show. Bush, on the other hand, was seen nodding his head in exasperation when Gore responded.
Post-debate comments from candidates
Bush chose not to appear on talk shows Wednesday morning, instead taping his remarks in the late hours after the debate.
"I felt like I did a good job of answering some of the attacks, and some of what I thought was misrepresentations about the tax plan," Bush said in his taped remarks for ABC's "Good Morning America."
"I went in trying to show people I knew what I was talking about on a variety of issues and that there was clear differences between what I believe and what the vice president believes," Bush said.
Appearing live on the same program, Gore was asked about a possible exaggeration during the debate and acknowledged that maybe "I got that wrong" in saying he accompanied Federal Emergency Management Agency head James Lee Witt to fires in Texas. Bush has alleged repeatedly that Gore exaggerates his own accomplishments.
"I've made so many trips with James Lee to these disaster sites. I was there in Texas with the head of the Texas emergency management folks, and with all the federal emergency management folks," Gore told ABC. "It was basically a compliment to the way our FEMA team handled things."
In a taped appearance for CBS' "Early Show," Bush said "being able to hold my own (in the debate) was a positive development for the campaign."
Gore, speaking live on the same broadcast, rejected Bush's repeated accusation that he was using "fuzzy math" to denounce the Texas governor's tax plan. He urged voters to "add up the numbers for themselves."
During Tuesday night's 90-minute debate, Bush and Gore dissected each other's most prized election-year initiatives -- each employing a relentless surgical method that the other criticized as less than worthy of a surgeon's steady hand.
As expected, the two major party presidential candidates used much of the face-off to promote their plans to provide prescription drug coverage for senior citizens, bolster the health of the Social Security and Medicare programs, and provide tax breaks to working Americans.
Each appeared exasperated as the other sought to demystify the numbers behind the competing plans to create tax relief and revamp federal entitlement programs. Gore often sighed as Bush spoke, while Bush would shake his head in frustration.
Still, the two alternately managed to compliment each other and slip in some razor-sharp barbs.
Bush, for example, described Gore as his "worthy opponent" as the debate opened, then later eviscerated the vice president on the topic of campaign finance reform, saying he had "no credibility on the issue."
The policy debate ultimately represented a continuation of national economic prosperity for Gore, while Bush employed the constant theme of empowering individuals over the interests of the federal government. But wrapped up in the conflict over policy were exchanges over the value of experience, the nature of leadership and strength of character.
The two emerged from opposite sides of the stage inside the Clark Athletic Center at the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts just after 9 p.m. EDT, approached each other, exchanged smiles and shook hands.
Regular stump-style expositions
While moderator Jim Lehrer, anchor of the Public Broadcasting System's "Newshour," explained to the audience on hand -- and reminded the candidates -- that he alone had chosen the subject matter for each of the event's queries, Bush and Gore both sought early on to turn the tide of the exchange toward their regular stump-style expositions.
Lehrer opened the debate by challenging Gore to explain what he meant when he challenged Bush's ability to lead from the Oval Office. That opening presented both candidates an opportunity to address one of the more stinging critiques the Gore campaign has leveled against Bush, who has occupied the Texas governor's mansion for only five years -- his only stint as an elected official.
Gore refused the bait. "I have not questioned Governor Bush's experience," the Democratic hopeful replied. "I have questioned his proposals."
As the 2000 presidential election approaches, Gore said, the nation has an opportunity to preserve the prosperity it has attained in the course of the eight-year Clinton-Gore administration.
Prosperity can be maintained, Gore argued, if he is entrusted with the presidency and is allowed to balance the federal budget annually, pay down the national debt, provide middle class tax cuts, and secure the long-term health of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.
Tax plan disputes
Gore's advisers had said in the hours leading up to the debate that he hoped to address all of these issues Tuesday night. He did so in less than two minutes, before heading straight at Bush's plan to provide $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over a 10-year period.
"His tax cut plan would give more money to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population than he would spend on education, health care, prescription drugs and national defense combined," Gore said.
"For every dollar I spend on health care, he spends three on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent," Gore argued. "For every dollar I spend in education, he spends five on tax cuts."
Bush defended his tax plan, first in general terms by saying his "passion and vision is to empower citizens to build their own lives," then by contrasting his plan with Gore's, who has called for a series of targeted, middle-class cuts, rather than an across-the-board relief regimen.
"I want to send one-quarter of the federal budget surplus back to the people who pay the bills," he said. "The differences between us can be seen in our budgets."
Of the surplus, which some government accounting entities have predicted could amount to more than $4 trillion over the next decade, Bush said of the $25 trillion the government takes in the course of the next 10 years -- including the surplus -- "surely, we can afford to give back 5 percent of what comes into the treasury."
The tax plans resurfaced numerous times as he debate continued. Bush said Gore's tax proposals added up to relief only for a certain few, a situation he described as "unfair." He added that Gore's entire budget proposal, including his tax cuts, would "explode the size of the federal government (and) bring in 20,000 more bureaucrats," including thousands of new agents employed at the Internal Revenue Service.
Medicare drug benefits a major issue
Bush went on the offensive on the subject of prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, saying the Clinton-Gore election machines of 1992 and 1996 ran with such a plan in 1992, and Gore was running on it again because he had failed to lead as a member of the administration.
Gore, like the Clinton administration, favors using the federal budget surplus to fund a drug benefit program that would be inserted into Medicare itself. Bush endorses a plan similar to the one created by congressional Republicans, which would encourage private insurers to get into the act with a host of federal subsidies.
"Under my plan, all seniors will get prescription drugs under Medicare," Gore said. "Here is the contrast: 95 percent of all seniors would get no help whatsoever under my opponent's plan."
Bush, agitated, blasted back at Gore by unearthing a term not heard since the GOP took over Congress in 1994 and went on the defensive against Democrats who accused the new majority of working to dismantle Medicare.
"The man is running under 'Mediscare'," Bush said. "He is trying to scare people in the voting booth."
He dug further. "I'm beginning to think that not only did he invent the Internet" -- Bush said in reference to a 1999 quote in which Gore claimed to have taken a significant role in the creation of Internet -- "But I'm beginning to think he invented the calculator."
The two engaged in similar exchanges over Social Security, with Gore arguing Bush's payroll tax investment plan would bankrupt the system, and Bush saying Gore had no philosophical problem with the system's current "paltry" 2 percent rate of return.
The personal stuff
The end of the debate turned ugly, as Bush, prompted to address Gore's character, went after the vice president on campaign finance.
Republican nominee Bush acknowledged Gore is a loving husband and father and expressed appreciation for that facet of his personality. But he charged that what he views as Gore's lapses in the campaign finance department -- his attendance at a fund-raiser at a California Buddhist temple and declaration that there was "no controlling legal authority" to judge whether fund-raising calls he made from the White House were proper -- -- indicated something was rotten in the Clinton-Gore White House.
"They moved the 'buck stops here' sign from the Oval Office to the Lincoln bedroom," Bush said. "I am disappointed in the way he and his administration have treated fund-raising affairs. Going to a Buddhist temple for a fund-raiser and not saying it is a fund-raiser is not my view of responsibility."
Gore, turning toward Bush, said he would eschew such a personal attack.
"I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not making you out to be a bad person," he said. "You have attacked my character and credibility. I am not going to respond in kind."
Gore campaign manager William Daley said such behavior won the debate for Gore.
"He's been out there campaigning, and he knows the American people don't want that," Daley said. "They've heard nothing but slashing and attacking from Republicans for eight years."
Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Bush ally, declared his friend the winner, saying should Bush perform that way through the next debate, "you're looking at the next president of the United States.
Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, was less committal. "I'm a Republican. I have to say that Governor Bush won."