SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) _ Al Gore warned that rival George W. Bush offers the promise of ``deficits and debt'' as the two traded charges and chased each other through states that could hold the key to next Tuesday's election.
``We have worked too hard on this economy to put it all at risk,'' Gore said Thursday, opening his campaign day with a rally in Pennsylvania. ``We've been down that road, and we're here to serve notice: We're not going back.''
Gore has launched a high-risk offensive questioning Bush's capacity for the White House, and he returned to his core message that the Democrats should be credited for a sound economy.
``We have never had a chance this great to help every hardworking family open the door to their dreams,'' Gore said, invoking the nation's low unemployment, crime and inflation rates, as well as the large surplus.
Bush countered that Gore is a big-spending Democrat who would run the country into debt, a charge Gore said isn't backed up by the record.
``He wants to change the very best things about the economic course were on,'' said Gore.
President Clinton chimed in from Washington, urging minorities who have supported him to turn out in large numbers for Gore as ``the next best thing.''
Clinton has kept his distance in the campaign as Gore has made a point of running as his own man. The president spoke Thursday on the Tom Joyner radio show, greeted with shouts of ``four more years'' as he was introduced.
The Bush camp thought Clinton's comment made their point that Gore represents a bad legacy from the current administration. ``Enough said. Thank you for making our case,'' spokeswoman Karen Hughes said.
The Democrats saw it as a compliment. ``I think it's like when Mickey Mantle replaced Joe DiMaggio. It's two great players, but one era takes over for the other,'' Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said.
Continuing to hammer Bush on Social Security, the Democratic National Committee was updating a TV ad that accuses him of promising the same $1 trillion to young workers for private accounts and to current retirees. The only change from an ad released in mid-October is the opening line, which now says: ``George W. Bush still won't answer questions about his Social Security plan.''
Bush advisers say the $2.4 trillion Social Security surplus will absorb the cost of the private accounts, but the surplus is already expected to run out once the baby boomers begin to retire. Draining money for private accounts will exacerbate the program's long-term solvency problems, and Bush has not explained how he will fix them.
Gore offered himself as a fiscal conservative as he swept across the country, warning Bush's proposals ``would take us back to deficits and debt.''
Both Bush and Gore were campaigning in Illinois on Thursday, with Bush also spending part of his day in Missouri and Wisconsin. Gore also was hitting Pennsylvania, Texas and New Mexico before flying into Missouri for the night to prepare for campaign stops Friday.
With five days remaining before the election, both were returning to core campaign themes, accusing the other of offering proposals likely to damage a relatively robust economy. Bush labels Gore a big spender, while Gore is polishing a populist riff depicting Bush as a tool of the rich.
Bush also questioned Gore's trustworthiness.
Firing back, Gore began airing tough new ads questioning whether Texas Gov. Bush has what it takes to be president.
The spot blasts Bush on taxes, the environment, children's health care and the minimum wage in Texas. It closes by asking, ``Is he ready to lead America?''
Gore's campaign debated the move for days, with some strategists warning the ad would appear desperate in the campaign's final days. Others pushed the aggressive step, arguing that the biggest doubt most voters have about Bush is his capacity to lead.
Gore running mate Joseph Lieberman and campaign surrogates, including Tipper Gore, opened the week arguing that Bush is unqualified for the job, but Gore has not joined them.
Appearing at a community center in University City, Mo., Thursday, Lieberman stood in front of a giant Social Security card and told 350 people that Bush was promising $1 trillion to younger people to invest on their own, taking that money from older people's Social Security checks.
``In promising that same trillion dollars to two groups of people, the governor has given new meaning to an old phrase, 'the Texas two-step.' It may be a good dance, but not with people's retirement funds,'' Lieberman said.
He also praised the widow of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died last month in a plane crash. Jean Carnahan is encouraging voters to support her husband for Senate. She has said she would accept appointment to the office in his place.
Bush running mate Dick Cheney was campaigning in Gore's home state of Tennessee, where he told a rally near Nashville that Nov. 7 ``will be the end of the Clinton-Gore era.''
The crowd responded, ``No more Gore! No more Gore!''
On Wednesday, Bush raised the issue of Gore's credibility during a swing through Minnesota, yet another Midwestern state where polls show a close race.
Bush accused Gore of ``spending without discipline, spending without priorities and spending without end.''
``Al Gore's massive spending would mean slower growth and higher taxes,'' he warned. ``And it could mean an end to our prosperity.''
Gore fired back, telling seniors in Florida he'd protect Social Security while Bush would bankrupt the program. Mrs. Gore and Lieberman also aided the candidate in Florida, another state with a tight race although Bush's brother is the governor.
``My opponent talks about a commitment to today's retirees,'' Gore said. ``But let's be clear on this: Soothing words don't pay the rent, much less buy prescription medicine.''
Seniors, he said, should vote to ``save Social Security'' by sticking with Democrats. Bush was firing back Thursday with a reprise of his plans to reform Medicare and provide coverage for prescription drugs, setting up his own weekend swing through Florida.
Previewing the issue, he told an audience in Duluth, Minn., Wednesday night that ``political Halloween evidently is still going on.
``My opponent is still trying to scare seniors,'' he said, and was answered with cheers.
Polls generally show the race competitive, but Democrats are worried about a survey Wednesday by the Pew Research Center showing Bush generating more enthusiasm among his backers, and voters becoming increasingly comfortable with his stand on issues.