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Bush and Gore Campaigns Tally Up the Post-Debate Scores

Politics: Aides spend the day spinning and clarifying after the Boston matchup. Texas visits, standing students and who has spent more is all fair game.


WEST CHESTER, Pa. — Wednesday on the presidential campaign trail and the post-debate truth squad was out in force:

Did Al Gore really visit Texas after a series of disastrous fires in 1998? Did Kailey Ellis, a Florida student Gore referred to during Tuesday night's verbal battle in Boston, really have to stand up to fit into her overcrowded Sarasota science class?

Was Texas Gov. George W. Bush, formerly the campaign's moneybags, really outspent by his Democratic rival? Was he right when he charged that Gore doesn't advocate mandatory testing as an education reform?

And when is a sigh just a sigh?

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday morning, Gore was asked about complaints that his frequent sighing could be heard throughout the 90-minute debate--an allegedly impolite soundtrack to his Republican rival's responses.

"Well, I guess sometimes the mike picks up your reaction to the other person, and I'll try to be more careful on that," Gore replied.

As Bush and Gore fanned out across battleground states Wednesday, hours after the first presidential debate of the century, actual campaigning took a back seat to heavy-duty critique.

Both campaign staffs let loose with a blizzard of debate-inspired e-mail spin, and the battling missives crossed paths in cyberspace: "Bush returns to personal attacks as polls show he lost debate." "Gore makes up facts about TX fires." Even Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, who was barred from debating, got into the act: "Buchanan: GW Bush betrays life."

Campaigning in this Philadelphia suburb, Bush pounded Gore in much the same language he used during the University of Massachusetts debate, charging that the vice president would be "the biggest government spender we've seen in decades."

Bush also accused Gore of trying to mislead voters into seeing his $1.3-trillion, 10-year tax cut plan as a giveaway to the rich. And he tried to raise new doubts about Gore's integrity by calling attention to his inaccurate remark about visiting Texas wildfires in 1998 with James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency chief.

The Texas governor called the remark "part of a disturbing pattern."

"I think I would have remembered it, but I took the man at his word," Bush said. "Of course, it turns out he didn't [visit with Witt]. This is a man who's got a record, you know, of sometimes exaggerating in order to make a point."

On Wednesday, Gore acknowledged during an interview on "Good Morning America" that his visit to Texas may not have been at the same time as Witt's. But Gore added that he nevertheless had toured many disasters with the FEMA director--17 in eight years, according to his campaign.

"Well, I was there in Texas. I think James Lee went to the same fire," Gore said. "If James Lee was there before or after, then, you know, I got that wrong then. But it was basically a compliment to the way our FEMA team had handled things. And it was in the context of a compliment to the governor for the way he handled it for the state of Texas."

Karen Hughes, Bush's communications director, said that when Gore is under pressure, he "simply makes things up." One example, she said, was how crowded the Sarasota, Fla., schools are.

Sarasota High School Principal Dan Kennedy told a local radio station that the student whose father wrote Gore about her crowded science class, Kailey Ellis, was without a desk for only one day and could have sat on a lab stool.

In the debate, Gore said, "They can't squeeze another desk in for her, so she has to stand during class."

Ellis' father defended Gore in an interview Wednesday, saying that Gore's description of Kailey's overcrowded classroom was accurate based on the information the vice president had been given.

Randy Ellis is a registered Republican who manages a waterfront restaurant in Sarasota and catered a crab cake lunch for Gore's entourage. He had handed an article on the area's crowded schools to a Gore aide before the vice president took off for Boston. The Sept. 10 article described Kailey's crowded science classroom and a photo showed her standing.

Gore expressed his own concerns about the debate Wednesday, agreeing with an African American radio talk show host in Boston who observed that the exchange ignored many issues of importance to the black community.

"I will agree with you that the questions did not include a lot of the subjects that African Americans would have wanted to see added to the discussion," Gore said. "And if they don't come up in the next debate, I will personally bring them up and fit them in, whether they ask the questions or not."

Gore did not, however, bust Bush on the Republican's inaccuracies in the Tuesday debate. He could, for example, have disputed Bush's characterization that the Democrat does not advocate mandatory testing as part of his education reform package.

Nor did he refute Bush's inaccurate contention that the Clinton administration had failed to cut middle-class taxes as the president promised in 1992.

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