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Bush, Gore hone post-debate strategy on the campaign trail

WARREN, Ohio (CNN) -- Seeking to capitalize on their performance in Tuesday night's debate, Vice President Al Gore pressed his attack on Texas Gov. George W. Bush's tax plan while Bush raised new questions about Gore's credibility.

Vice President Al Gore, with his wife Tipper by his side in Warren, Ohio, suggests Texas Gov. George W. Bush was too negative during their face-off  

Both men spent Wednesday campaigning in Ohio, after facing off in Boston on Tuesday night. Ohio is seen as a must-win state for Bush: No Republican candidate has won the presidency without carrying the Buckeye State, and the two major-party candidates are in a neck-in-neck race for its 21 electoral votes.

Gore made two appearances in the state, while Bush headed there after stops in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania -- another top prize, with 23 electoral votes. Speaking to supporters at a rally in Warren, Ohio, the vice president continued to criticize Bush's tax cut proposals and publicly disavow any personal attacks on the Texas governor.

Tuesday night, Bush attempted to raise questions about Gore's character, criticizing his role in the 1996 Democratic fund-raising effort. Gore attempted to turn that tactic against Bush on Wednesday by insisting, "It's better to spend time attacking America's problems than to attack people personally."

Then he went after his Republican rival's tax plan, which Bush says will return money to taxpayers who have provided the surplus. Gore attacked it as a giveaway to the rich, arguing that only a handful of people would reap most of the benefits. Gore said the tax cut returns more money to wealthy taxpayers than Bush would spend on education, health care and defense combined.

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"This surplus is yours, which is why we shouldn't give almost half of it to the wealthiest 1 percent," he said. "The other 99 percent of Americans have had a lot to do with creating that." And he again tried to remind voters of the economic doldrums that marked the administration of President Bush, the father of the current GOP nominee.

"This choice is a choice between going in the right direction -- going toward a stronger economy with more jobs and higher incomes -- or a U-turn back towards the old ways, where they concentrate on those at the very top," Gore said.

Earlier, Gore told CNN his immediate post-debate game plan was to "continue to communicate directly with the American people."

"I thought I had a real good chance to give my views to the American people," Gore said. "I thought I had a great opportunity to tell them about my plans."

Democratic pollster Mark Mellman predicted polls will start to tilt toward Gore after the debate.

"George Bush really needed to shake things up in this debate. He really needed to change the dynamic," Melman said. "He really needed to give people that 'Ah ha' experience, where they thump their forehead and say 'My gosh, I've been thinking about this race all wrong.' He really failed to to do that."

But Gore aides privately gave Bush his due, and the debate had not become the turning point they predicted. Their candidate adapted some of his stump speech to parry Bush's "big government" attack -- reminding people that while the surplus may be their money, it also would pay for "your Medicare, your Social Security, your clean environment."

Bush blasts 'fuzzy math'

Bush, meanwhile, continued to hammer at what he called the "fuzzy math" Gore has used to criticize his $1.3 trillion,10-year tax cut proposal -- the centerpiece of his campaign. He also jabbed at Gore's reputation for exaggeration.

"He not only thought he invented the Internet, but he came up with a new calculator," Bush told a college audience in West Chester, Pennsylvania. "It's a calculator that you put real numbers into, and out come political numbers."

Gore has said Bush's plans would wipe out the federal budget surplus and undermine popular programs for seniors such as Medicare and Social Security.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, once considered a possible GOP running mate, called Bush's debate performance a "smashing victory" Wednesday. Bush himself said he hadn't had a chance to review his performance, but said "I hope I smiled enough. I felt very comfortable."

"We have a difference of opinion, and I'm going to keep talking about the difference of opinion," Bush said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday. "The truth of the matter is when you look at his plan, he expands the federal government larger than any president in modern history since Lyndon Johnson."

"One of the things I wanted to do is make sure people understood how big government is going to get under Vice President Gore. I mean, it is really going to grow," he added.

Bush said Gore was trying to scare the public with inaccurate figures.

"We lead by positive example and a positive agenda," he said in Pennsylvania. "He leads by trying to frighten seniors and taxpayers into the voting booth."

Bush, aides trade jabs over inaccuracies

Bush also criticized Gore for saying, during Tuesday night's debate, that he visited disaster sites in Texas with federal emergency management chief James Lee Witt.

Laura and George W. Bush
Joined by his wife Laura at a rally in West Chester, Pennsylvania, George W. Bush says Vice President Al Gore's debate performance proves he would be "the biggest government spender we've seen in decades"  

"It's a pattern of just saying whatever it takes to win," Bush said. Asked whether the discrepancy was a big deal, he said "There's a pattern of exaggerations and stretches to try to win votes, and it says something about leadership."

Gore's campaign said Wednesday he did get a briefing from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in Houston, but the vice president was there for a fund-raiser and Witt was not there. But he and Witt have toured many disaster scenes together, Gore said, and aides portrayed the comments as a trivial mistake.

Bush's running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, said he was "puzzled and saddened to learn" that Gore had misrepresented his actions during the 1998 wildfires in Texas.

"Al Gore has described these presidential debates as a job interview with the American people," Cheney said. "I've learned over the years that when somebody embellishes their resume in a job interview, you don't hire them."

Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway refused to characterize Gore's statement from Tuesday night, instead insisting that Bush "needs to answer for his own falsehoods." He said Bush's claim during the debate that Gore has outspent him in the presidential campaign was "outrageous."

"Bush has spent more than anyone ever has to run this campaign, including Al Gore. Leading up to the general election, Bush spent twice as much as Gore," Hattaway said.

CNN Correspondents Candy Crowley, John King and Jonathan Karl and CNN.com Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.


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Wednesday, October 4, 2000


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