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Campaign 2000

Ad Sparks Spat Over Tone of GOP Race

Campaign: Charges of distortion arise after Bush criticizes McCain Web site.


CHULA VISTA, Calif. — George W. Bush and John McCain warmed up for their evening debate by sparring long distance Thursday over the tenor of the campaign, with Bush deriding his rival as "increasingly . . . angry" and McCain exhorting the Texas governor to "get out of the gutter."

Thursday's spat in part concerned an ad that Bush has been running in New York charging that if McCain becomes president, he will cut funding for breast cancer research programs in the Empire State as examples of "garden-variety pork" that should be excised from the federal budget.

The Bush campaign points to McCain's own Web site, where the Arizona senator promises that "as president, I would cut every one of the projects on the following list." The list includes $1 million earmarked for the breast cancer research program at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, among other programs.

McCain called the ad a "distortion" and said that he rejected funding for the clinics because they were contained in an omnibus bill that included millions of dollars for lawmakers' pet projects. McCain said he has repeatedly supported breast cancer research in other legislation.

"My message is, 'Gov. Bush, get out of the gutter,' " McCain said while campaigning in East Los Angeles. "Acknowledge the fact that I've been a strong supporter of breast cancer [research]."

But a chastened McCain, rueful that supporters have voiced concern over his recent attacks on Christian conservative leaders, also vowed Thursday to "try to keep it on the issues and not get bogged down in this tit-for-tat kind of thing."

When asked about McCain's promise to return to substance while campaigning for primaries next week, Bush countered that "it sounds like I'm going to have to defend myself. I look forward to talking about a positive vision for America, [but] it sounds like Sen. McCain is increasingly becoming angry as the campaign goes on."

The Bush ad talks about McCain's Web site and the breast cancer programs McCain would excise from the federal budget. It ends with the more sweeping charge that "we deserve a candidate with a record on women's issues who we can trust."

Bush defended the ads while campaigning in this San Diego suburb, saying that "we're talking about what's on his Web page. . . . This is something John McCain laid out."

Late Thursday, McCain aides complained that a group called Republicans for Clean Air was spending nearly $2 million on television commercials attacking the senator's environmental record. The ads were being broadcast in several key states that vote Tuesday, including California.

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, McCain's campaign demanded an investigation of the commercials, charging that they do not properly identify the sponsors. McCain aides later said they traced the ads to a Bush supporter.

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