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Bush, Gore Feud About Tax Plans

October 4, 2000 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ ``Feeling pretty good″ after the first presidential debate, George W. Bush stuck with his tax-cut theme Wednesday, saying Al Gore’s performance proved he would be ``the biggest government spender we’ve seen in decades.″

``It is clear that the era of big government being over will be over if he becomes the president,″ Bush said before leaving town to campaign in West Chester, Pa., and Ohio. Bush said he wanted taxpayers, not government, to spend more of their own money.

Before also heading to Ohio, Gore rejected Bush’s repeated accusations that he was using ``fuzzy math″ to describe the Texas governor’s tax plan. On CBS’ ``Early Show,″ Gore repeated his assertion that almost half of the money in Bush’s tax cuts would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and urged voters to ``add up the numbers for themselves.″

Asked whether he could dispute Gore’s numbers, Bush told ABC’s ``Good Morning America″: ``I think what people have got to understand is wealthy people pay a lot of taxes today and if everybody gets tax relief, wealthy people are going to get tax relief.″

During the debate, Bush challenged Gore’s character and credibility, and Gore countered by saying he wanted to focus on the country’s problems, not attacks.

But both contestants tried it both ways, dueling on issues and also on personal performance and qualifications Tuesday night in the first of three debates that could prove crucial in their virtually even match for the White House.

Bush told CBS he benefitted from ``being on the stage with a man who has had the reputation as a very strong debater, and being able to hold my own.″

The Bush campaign complained Wednesday that Gore exaggerated when he described visiting the site of Texas fires with Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt.

Wednesday, Gore acknowledged his Texas visit might not have been at the same time as Witt’s, but said he had toured many disasters with him.

After their running mates debate Thursday in Danville, Ky., Bush and Gore meet again Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., followed by a third debate Oct. 17 in St. Louis. Their first 90-minute confrontation set lines that may be drawn even more harshly when they meet again.

In three out of four quick network public opinion polls, Gore was rated the better debater. In a CBS News poll, 56 percent said he’d done better, 42 percent said Bush. A CNN-USAToday-Gallup survey made it Gore, 48-41, and NBC’s poll said Gore, 46-36. An ABC poll rated them about even.

A group of five high school and college debate coaches assembled by The Associated Press couldn’t agree on a winner. Four picked Gore; one picked Bush.

Bush hardened the tone in the closing minutes when moderator Jim Lehrer asked about character. Bush said he was discouraged by the vice president’s conduct and comments about Democratic fund raising for the 1996 campaign, then targeted President Clinton without using his name, or mentioning his scandal and impeachment.

``I felt there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House,″ he said. ``I believe they’ve moved the sign the buck stops here from the Oval Office desk to the buck stops here at the Lincoln Bedroom.

``We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office,″ he said.

``I think we ought to attack our country’s problems, not attack each other,″ Gore responded. ``I want to spend my time making this country better than it is, not making you out to be a bad person.″

Running mate Joseph Lieberman defended Gore.

``At moments of desperation, Governor Bush turns back and attacks President Clinton and his name is not on the ballot,″ Lieberman told CNN after the debate.

Clinton, in Miami, praised Gore’s performance. But he also said Bush might gain a bounce in the nearly deadlocked public opinion polls in the next few days, although he said it would fade when the campaign refocuses on issues.

Gore delivered his own post-debate assessment at a midnight rally at a Boston hotel. ``This election is not about me, it’s not about George W. Bush,″ he said. ``It’s really about you. It’s about the next generation.″

Bush addressed supporters at a South Boston skating rink. ``Man, am I glad I came to Boston,″ he said.

He came with the goal of showing presidential stature and his Republican cheerleaders said he had succeeded. He avoided the kind of verbal stumbles that have sometimes been a problem.

Gore, the more seasoned debater, hammered at his chosen issues but avoided the attack tactics he has used against other rivals. Bush took his character offensive after more than an hour of fencing about policy issues.

They argued about Medicare and prescription drug benefits for the elderly, disputed formulas for the future of Social Security, and clashed over taxes. They sharply debated abortion, Bush repeating that he was disappointed at the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of an abortion pill, but saying he wouldn’t have presidential power to reverse it. Gore supported the FDA ruling, said Bush appointees to the Supreme Court would threaten abortion rights, and said he’d guard them.

``I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies and their bodies,″ he said.

Overall, the tax issue seemed to be Gore’s chosen message. Bush countered that Gore favors tax breaks only for specific purposes, to be chosen, he said, by big government. He said 50 million taxpayers wouldn’t get any cut from Gore, while everyone would be covered by his plan for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years.