2nd Debate Viewed As Mostly Polite


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


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — After a largely polite debate, Al Gore's campaign early Thursday said it would step up criticism of the record of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Gore's campaign accused Bush of making several mistakes, ``including errors of life-and-death issues'' in their second debate, and promised to make his record as governor a top issue in the final four weeks of the campaign.

Gore, who slipped in polls after the first debate as the Bush campaign highlighted mistakes and exaggerations he made, is trying to turn the tables on Bush.

Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani said the campaign was releasing examples of miscues made by Bush in the debate, including a statement that three men convicted in the 1998 Texas dragging death of James Byrd Jr. behind a pickup truck would be put to death. Bush later acknowledged that he'd misspoken twice when he said all three are to be executed for the crime — only two got the death penalty; the third received life imprisonment.

During Wednesday's debate, Gore did not pick up on the error, but Fabiani on Thursday said Bush's statement that the men ``would'' be put to death risks hurting the prosecution's case against all three. He said appeals are pending in all three cases.

``As a result of last night's debate, the Texas record is squarely on the table for the public to examine,'' Fabiani said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Bush acknowledged the error in a post-debate interview on ABC.

``Listen, we all make mistakes,'' he said. Bush declined to say whether his mistake on the Byrd case was comparable to Gore's alleged miscues.

Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Gore was inconsistent in his comments on energy. She said the Bush campaign would continue to welcome Gore's attacks on Texas, which she said were largely erroneous.

``The vice president has some explaining of his own to do after last night's debate,'' she said.

Hughes also said Bush would ``emphasize the vice president's inability to explain why his administration has increased the rate of the uninsured in the country.''

Fabiani on Thursday outlined planned attacks to keep the pressure on Bush after the debate, saying Gore himself would begin addressing the issue Thursday. He said Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, would do the same during a visit to Texas.

Fabiani said the Democratic National Committee and the Gore campaign were sending surrogates across the country to criticize Bush. Also, Democratic ads would increasingly focus on the Texas governor's record, Fabiani said.

``Governor Bush made serious errors, including errors of life-and-death issues,'' he said. ``Mr. Bush needs to be held to the same exacting standard applied to Al Gore last week.''

Fabiani pointed to both large and small mistakes made by Bush, including:

—An appearance on ABC's ``Good Morning America'' on Thursday, in which Bush said 111 children had returned to the Medicaid system; Bush should have said the figure was 111,000.

—Bush later remarked, ``I don't know the numbers,'' Fabiani said.

—At a post-debate rally, Fabiani said, Bush told supporters that if elected president he'd be inaugurated on Election Day; the president is inaugurated in January.

Polls immediately after the first debate, on Oct. 3, showed Gore a clear winner, but Bush was able to seize on miscues by Gore to gain momentum in the campaign.

With their more aggressive strategy beginning Thursday, the Gore campaign plans to do the
same.

At their second debate, held in the chapel of Wake Forest University Wednesday night, the candidates struck a more polite tone, taking turns discussing America's role abroad, mixing argument and agreement on foreign policy. The campaign debate turned confrontational when they got to issues of capability and credibility.

The matchup in their neck-and-neck campaign produced no clear breakthroughs for either nominee, with one more round coming in St. Louis next Tuesday, exactly three weeks before one is elected president.

Both the vice president and Gov. Bush said they enjoyed the more relaxed format.

During the debate, Gore admitted making factual errors, a line of attack that Bush and his allies have used to challenge the Democrat's credibility and one the Republican said voters should judge.

Gore said he couldn't promise to never get another detail wrong, only that he would try. But he said that as president he would ``work my heart out to get the big things right.''

Thursday, he and wife Tipper were headed to a Milwaukee rally before returning home to Washington overnight to attend their son's high school football banquet. Bush and his wife Laura were scheduled to campaign in Philadelphia and be interviewed on a cable TV show aimed at women, before heading to Michigan.

Instant public opinion polls by ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and CNN-USA Today gave Bush higher marks in Wednesday night's debate. An ABC poll showed 46 percent of viewers thought he won, with 30 percent saying Gore won. In the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, 49 percent thought Bush did a better job, with 36 percent saying Gore did a better job. NBC News used the same ``better job'' formulation and found 40 percent thought Bush did a better job to 37 percent for Gore.

In a CBS News poll, 51 percent thought Bush won, while 48 percent thought Gore won. The error margins for the polls ranged from 4 to 5 percentage points.

Bush and Gore basically agreed on U.S. policy in the Middle East crisis, both demanding that Yasser Arafat act to halt Palestinian violence against Israel. They both pledged to maintain U.S. ties with Israel, despite any differences on diplomatic details.

They also agreed on U.S. policy toward Yugoslavia, saying that but for the use of NATO force against the Serbians, Slobodan Milosevic would not have fallen to an elected president.

The last question to Bush from moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS got to the attack tactics both campaigns have been using. Lehrer asked whether Bush believes his campaign's charges that Gore exaggerated, embellishes and stretches the facts should be considered a serious issue.

``I've been known to mangle a syllable or two myself, you know,'' Bush said, intentionally mispronouncing ``syllable.''

He said Gore's misstatements were nothing new. ``I think credibility's important,'' he said. ``And yes, I think it's something that people need to consider.''

Gore clearly was prepared for the question. He said he regretted getting some of his facts wrong in the first debate, in part because it obscured valid points he was trying to make on issues like overcrowded classrooms and the high cost of prescription drugs.

Then Lehrer turned to Gore, saying his campaign is ``calling the governor a bungler.''

``I don't use language like that,'' Gore said. ``And I don't think we should.''