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Where are the underdog's attack puppies?

(TIME.com) -- Conventional wisdom holds that political underdogs are more likely to attack, and front-runners are more likely to sit tight and avoid rocking the boat.

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But this election year has never been about conventional wisdom.

With barely enough time to saturate even one market, let alone an entire battleground state, the Bush campaign, up a few points in the polls, has developed a whole new arsenal of attack ads aimed at last-minute wafflers, while the Gore camp has elected to keep out of the fray -- at least for the time being.

Parting with more than $11 million for a pair of ads, Bush strategists released a spot Monday attacking Gore's veracity, accusing the vice president of "twisting the truth" about Bush's Social Security plan -- and flat-out lying about the now-infamous dog blessed with that affordable prescription drug plan. Gore spokespeople immediately branded the new Bush ad "uncivil" -- but rather than strike back (the accepted tactic under such circumstances), decided to pull their own negative spot that was scheduled to run Wednesday throughout battleground states.

Hoping, perhaps, to catch more flies (that's you, undecideds!) with honey than with GOP-style vinegar, the Dems have launched an ad hyping the veep's history in "service of his country," with nods to Gore's stint in Vietnam and his long congressional career. Bush's name is never mentioned.

If something in this media equation seems backward to you, you're not alone. Political strategists are scratching their heads all over the country today; Bush, who is ahead by a small margin in most polls, has struck the first blow in the final days -- a tactic usually reserved for the underdog. Meanwhile, they say Gore may actually be hurting his chances by taking the high road. The veep's supporters have been continually (and vocally) frustrated by the vice president's pattern of passivity, his willingness to let what they see as Bush's half-truths slip by without so much as a peep. And now, in the waning days of the campaign, when Bush is attacking the veep over his "fuzzy math" and slippery politics, Gore, once again, seems to be turning the other cheek.

But that may change. Although the Gore camp is playing nice today, there may well be an attack tomorrow. (That's what the Gore camp wants everyone at Bush headquarters to believe, anyway). Sources inside the vice president's campaign predict that a new, prickly ad, slamming Bush as politically inexperienced, will launch as early as Wednesday night. Maybe that high road wasn't so satisfying after all.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc.


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Saturday, November 4, 2000


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