Facts and Flubs Gain Importance in Close Race Both Campaigns Intensify Criticism

The Florida Times Union, October 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Facts and Flubs Gain Importance in Close Race Both Campaigns Intensify Criticism


AUSTIN, Texas -- Forget any return to civility in the excruciatingly close presidential race. To Al Gore's camp, George W. Bush is a bumbler and babbler. Bush advocates call Gore "a serial exaggerator," a guy who just can't tell the truth.

Gore's embellishments and Bush's botches could pose serious political problems for each in the final month of the campaign, analysts and politicians suggest. And both camps are intensifying their criticism.

The Bush campaign has issued e-mail press releases it calls "The Gore Detector: A Regular Report on Al Gore's Adventures with the Truth." And Gore officials say a portion of his Web site will be devoted to Bush's flubs.

Gore advisers say his campaign is feeling the sting of the GOP efforts: Polls suggest Bush has picked up support since last week's first debate. The Gore people hope voters will decide Bush is being too negative and will reverse the trend one more time.

Gore's occasional trouble with the facts and Bush's problems with language are long-recognized traits that are getting added attention with the race so close in the final weeks of the campaign.

"Both problems are equally serious and disturbing," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. He said Bush's gaffes reinforce suggestions of intellectual shortcomings while Gore's embellishments fuel concerns about his honesty.

"Americans want someone as their president who is smart enough for the job. But they also want someone who isn't always lying to them," Sabato said.

Eight of 10 people think Gore is intelligent and well informed compared with seven of 10 for Bush, according to Time-CNN and Newsweek polls. But people think Bush is more likely than Gore to say what he believes and not just what voters want to hear, the polls say.

Gore foes point to two statements in particular from last week's debate: He said he inspected flood and fire damage in Texas in 1998 with James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he said a 15-year-old Sarasota girl was having to stand in an overcrowded science class.

Gore has since acknowledged that he went to Texas but not with Witt and not to the disaster area. And the principal of the school in Sarasota said the girl only stood one day.

Meanwhile, Bush detractors cite his sometimes convoluted descriptions, jumbled syntax and occasional difficulty explaining his own programs.

Over the weekend in Florida, Bush fumbled his arithmetic on taxes and wound up just spitting out numbers. At another point, he criticized Gore's health plan saying, "He wants the doctors to make every decision on behalf of every patient" -- just what Bush contends wouldn't happen.

While some critics say Bush's mistakes indicate a shaky grasp of issues and facts, Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas and a longtime Bush watcher, suggests the more likely problem is fatigue.

"When he gets tired and is under pressure, he has a tendency to misspeak," Buchanan said. …

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