Gore says third time was a charm

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Vice president, upbeat after debate, enters homestretch of campaign

By G. Robert Hillman / The Dallas Morning News

DES MOINES, Iowa – Al Gore's last debate with George W. Bush reminded him of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

"The first debate – too hot," Mr. Gore said, recalling the porridge in the fairy tale. "The second was too cold. The third debate was just right."

Clearly buoyed by his performance Tuesday night, the vice president made the rounds on the network television shows Wednesday morning, promising a vigorous all-out drive to Election Day, Nov. 7.

His endgame message will be "Big Choices. Prosperity for All," and he and his aides made it clear that he will be relentless in delivering it.

Addressing supporters in a hastily arranged forum at the Des Moines convention center, Mr. Gore accused Republican rival Bush of threatening Social Security by committing the same $1 trillion to younger workers for private investment in the stock market and to the elderly for benefits.

"Where is the trillion in his budget plan?" Mr. Gore asked. "It is nowhere on his books."

To buttress Mr. Gore's charge, the Democratic National Committee rolled out a new ad, called "Promise."

"Which promise is he going to break?" the ad asks.

In many ways, Mr. Gore said, his difference with Mr. Bush over Social Security is a "symbol of our different approaches to the future of this country."

"I am for sound fiscal management," the vice president said, "to be bold when it can pay off, but to not be foolhardy."

The Bush campaign has accused Mr. Gore of trying to scare the elderly.

"It is irresponsible for the vice president to distort the facts," said Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan, asserting that the Texas governor has plenty of money in his fiscal plan to meet all of his promises on Social Security.

"He preserves and protects existing benefits for current and near-current retirees," Mr. Sullivan said.

During a campaign swing from Missouri, Iowa and Michigan to New York, Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper, stopped briefly at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, Mo., to express their sympathy to the family of Mel Carnahan. The Democratic governor, a Senate candidate, died with his son and a campaign aide in an air crash Monday night.

Missouri, like Iowa and Michigan, is one of nearly a dozen swing states that are crucial to victory. Both Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush are expected to spend much of the last three weeks of the campaign scouring those battlegrounds for votes.

Beginning Monday, Mr. Gore's aides said, he will start the day with members of middle-class families in their homes, workplaces, or perhaps at schools in a renewed effort to highlight the cornerstones of his campaign – targeted tax cuts, Medicare and Social Security reform, education and other issues.

"Even though some people have not fully shared in the prosperity, to say the least, nevertheless it's undeniably true that our economy is stronger," Mr. Gore said on CNN.

"Crime is lower. Homeownership is higher. The debt is down. Instead of deficits, we have surpluses. There are 22 million new jobs," he went on, touting what he called the major economic accomplishments of the Clinton-Gore administration's eight years.

"Do we want to keep going in that direction? Do we want to keep changing in the right way?" he asked. "Or do we want to go back to the way it was eight years ago?

"The choice is clear," he said, "and I'm not going to stand by and let down the people who want to see us continue building our economy so they can participate."

In the waning days of the race for the White House, which by all accounts is headed for a photo finish, the Democratic presidential nominee will be trying to draw more sharply his contrasts with Mr. Bush.

The effort will be tightly coordinated with the national party as part of a larger drive to rally support and get out the vote.

"We have to be coordinated and we have to be targeted because we don't have the same resources," said Gore adviser Bob Shrum, contending that Republicans would outspend Democrats by perhaps 2 to 1.

In such close race, Mr. Shrum said, neither campaign can take anything for granted. "You got to go out and fight really, really hard," he said.

Overnight surveys suggested that Mr. Gore had a slight edge over Mr. Bush in Tuesday night's debate, but the margins were close. Nevertheless, the Gore campaign, from its high command on down, was relieved. Mr. Gore had been criticized, after his earlier debate performances, as being sometimes condescending and loose with the facts.

Looking back, his campaign chairman, William Daley said, "Nothing has moved that matters through the whole three debates." And he predicted a "rock 'em, sock 'em" finale.

"You've got to have that clear message," he said. "People have to make up their minds. They are going to be forced ... in the next two weeks to say: 'OK, I may or may not like this guy. I may not be sure. But, hey, if I'm going to vote, I've got to make up my mind.'"