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A Day in Life of Bush and Gore: Verbal Missteps and Explanations

Politics: The GOP candidate stumbles on taxes. His rival denies he has a tendency toward self-aggrandizement.


NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Al Gore and George W. Bush spent Saturday in verbal quicksand, with the Democratic presidential nominee seeking to explain his oratorical embellishments and the Republican trying to explain himself.

In a conference call from Washington, Vice President Gore denied he has a tendency toward self-aggrandizement. He alternately defended his credibility against attacks from his rival and pointed toward mistakes Bush himself made during Tuesday's presidential debate.

Gore noted that during Tuesday's exchange in Boston, Bush incorrectly charged that the Democratic presidential campaign had outspent the Republican campaign.

"The fact that he has spent twice the amount that I have and that the Republican Party is vastly outspending the Democratic Party could be characterized as an exaggeration or however you want to describe it," Gore said. "But I didn't seize upon that as something, as anything other than a mistake that he had made."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 29, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 4 Foreign Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Social security--A story in The Times on Sept. 23 misstated the percentage of Social Security and Medicare taxes paid by a single mother earning $22,000 annually. The correct percentage is 7.65%.

Publicly chiding Gore for misrepresentations is a staple for the Bush campaign and has intensified since the Tuesday debate. In Florida on Friday evening, Bush referred to Gore's "consistent pattern of exaggerating." GOP running mate Dick Cheney also has lambasted Gore.

"These are negative personal attacks of the kind I simply do not engage in," the vice president told reporters in a phone call.

"The Republican ticket announced a few weeks ago that they were going to adopt a new strategy of focusing on the issues," Gore continued. "But they have now completely abandoned that strategy, and they are focused almost entirely on personal attacks."

The Bush campaign has pounced on comments made by Gore during the debate as proof of his credibility problems. In one such remark, Gore said he had traveled to Texas wildfire sites in 1998 with James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Gore acknowledged Saturday, as he and aides have earlier, that Witt had joined him on 16 or 17 such trips but that on the trip in question he was joined instead by Witt's deputy.

And Gore sought to downplay even the stumbles Bush has made, calling them "the kind he makes on a regular basis" and saying that they are "the kind that are relatively commonplace in the political dialogue in the United States."

But even some Democrats, while insisting that the complaints against Gore were overstated, worry that more embellishments could take a serious toll.

"It's not yet a big problem," said a Democratic consultant close to the Gore camp. "If it happens again in the next debate, it could be a gigantic problem. But I think the guy has to be a fool to let it happen again."

On Saturday morning, during a town hall meeting here, Bush displayed his own distinctive speech pattern: the tendency toward verbal gaffes he seems to have inherited from his syntactically challenged father.

Accusing Gore of vowing to reform Medicare but not delivering, Bush said that his opponent failed because "he liked Hillary-care" and believed deeply in government making decisions for Americans.

So far so good.

Gore "wants to nationalize the health care system of America," Bush argued. "He wants the doctors making every decision on behalf of every patient in the nation."

Actually, most Americans would like that too, if they could only get it; Bush meant to say that his rival wants the bureaucrats to make the nation's health care choices.

And then came taxes--not an easy topic whomever you are.

Bush described to an appreciative central Florida audience how his $1.3-trillion, 10-year tax-cut plan would help a single mother making $22,000 a year by lowering the marginal tax rate.

"For the first time, she's in the 15% bracket," Bush began, describing what is now the lowest tax rate, which he proposes dropping to 10%. "When you add another 15% pay or 16.2% payroll tax on top of that, plus the 2.9%, I mean the payroll tax and the Medicare tax, 16.4%, you end up with, uh, you end up with a high marginal rate.

"And that's not right. And that's not fair. And we're going to do something about it. We're going to drop the rate and lower the, uh," he said, his words trailing off.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was seated near his candidate brother and looked a bit bewildered as Bush strolled Oprah-style to the center of the community college gymnasium. Bush lowered his hand-held microphone and turned to his sibling.

"What's the minimum tax?" he asked Jeb, who responded with a puzzled shrug. A pause. Bush turned and took another stab.

"15.3%. 12.4% and 2.9%." And he smiled. "I was trying to do some fuzzy math," he cracked, using a pet phrase for what he said was Gore's misrepresentation of the Bush tax plan. "Yeah, I used his calculator. But then I used the real one."

Too bad that calculator doesn't come with directions. The 15.3% that Bush quoted is what's added on top of the hypothetical single mother's 15% tax rate--12.4% in Social Security taxes plus 2.9% in Medicare taxes.

Karen Hughes, Bush communications director, downplayed her candidate's missteps Saturday. When someone says so many thousands of words, every once in a while "the wrong ones come out at the wrong time." Besides, she continued, "there's a big difference between a verbal slip and an outright misrepresentation."

Cheney--a former high school football star--hit the gridiron again Saturday, campaigning at the Iowa State/Nebraska game in Ames, Iowa, after stumping before veterans in Waterloo, Iowa. Cheney, who was born in Nebraska, declined to take sides in the game.

Joseph I. Lieberman, Gore's running mate and an Orthodox Jew, does not campaign on Saturdays.


Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this story.

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