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Bush Calls Attack Ads 'Tongue-in-Cheek'

Politics: The GOP presidential candidate denies that his party's response to 'withering' assaults by the Democrats is 'mean and ugly.'


TEXARKANA, Ark. — A day after Republicans released an ad mocking Al Gore for raising money in a Buddhist temple and saying he helped invent the Internet, George W. Bush on Friday called it a "tongue-in-cheek" response to the Democrats' "withering" assaults.

"I don't think this is mean and ugly," Bush said. "I think this is a tongue-in-cheek use of a man's own words."

Bush, who has promised to "change the tone" in Washington, told Kentucky high school students on Thursday that politics doesn't have to be "mean and ugly."

He said the Republican National Committee's ad, which started airing Friday in 17 states, is aimed at undermining the credibility of a $30-million Democratic Party ad campaign that attacked him over the summer.

"The basic point the Republicans were making is, this is a man who will say things to get elected, including distorting my record," Bush told reporters Friday as he set out from Austin, Texas, on a campaign swing through Louisiana and Arkansas.

The Democrats have run a number of spots attacking Bush's record as Texas governor. The ads have criticized his handling of the environment and children's health insurance, and they portrayed him as an ally of "big drug companies."

The new Republican ad shows Gore at a 1996 political fund-raiser in a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif. It also shows a clip of Gore saying, "I took the initiative in creating the Internet." The narrator says, "Yeah, and I invented the remote control."

"This was humorous and accurate," Bush said. "This is the man's own words. And let the American people judge whether or not it's accurate."

Kym Spell, Gore's deputy communications director, said Bush's "downward spiraling poll numbers have apparently made him so dizzy that he can no longer distinguish negative from positive. His ridiculous statement is today's sign of just how desperate the Bush campaign has become and how out of touch George W. Bush is with the American people."

Bush pounded Gore on Friday for what he cast as the vice president's broken promises to cut taxes and expand prescription drug coverage.

And at an airport rally in the sweltering bayou town of Lafayette, La., Bush promised hundreds of supporters that he would promote oil exploration off the Gulf of Mexico coast.

With his white shirt sleeves rolled up and sweat pouring down his face, Bush told the cheering oil-state crowd that "dependency on foreign crude puts this nation at risk."

"I'll have an energy policy which will empower producers to develop U.S. energy supplies," he shouted from a platform on the tarmac next to his plane. "I'll have an energy policy that welcomes offshore exploration off the coast of Louisiana and Texas."

Bush also praised a Louisiana Democrat, Sen. John B. Breaux, for his plan to help seniors buy private insurance for prescription drugs.

"He's got the right idea, this Democrat from Louisiana," Bush said. "But it was a plan rejected by the administration, of which my opponent is a proud part."

Gore, the Democratic presidential nominee, has proposed offering prescription drug coverage for everyone on Medicare. Bush has not released a proposal for prescription drug coverage.

In Arkansas, Bush promoted his proposed income tax cut. He appeared at the Texarkana airport with a local couple, Lisa and Ray Nelson, insurance agents whose taxes, Bush said, would drop far more under his plan than under Gore's.

"I find it interesting that my opponent is campaigning on targeted tax cuts for the middle class," Bush said. "It's an echo from the past. It's what they campaigned on in 1992. He has to do it again in the year 2000 because they were unable to deliver."

Bush also toured the College Hill Elementary School here, where he trumpeted his plan to help kids learn to read by third grade.

Today, Bush and his foreign policy advisors are scheduled to get a national security briefing from the Central Intelligence Agency at his ranch near Waco, Texas. Presidential nominees have received such briefings since 1952.


Times staff writer Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.

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