Gore - Bush each claim to be best leader for America

publiziert: Mittwoch, 18. Okt 2000 / 08:20 Uhr

St. Louis - Three weeks from judgment at the polls, Al Gore and George W. Bush each claimed Tuesday to be the best president to meet the needs of Americans and extend U.S. leadership abroad.

Gore attacked Bush as an ally of the rich and powerful, but the Texas governor rebutted in their climactic campaign debate that his rival was a "big spender" in the mold of Democratic liberals who once sought the White House and lost.

Locked in a close race for the White House, the candidates argued domestic and foreign policy issues for 90 minutes in a town hall-style format, fielding questions from an audience of preselected uncommitted voters. It was their third encounter in two weeks, and their last before they face the verdict of the voters on Nov. 7. Bush accused Gore of proposing more spending than Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis combined, Democrats who lost in 1984 and 1988. In their final summations, the two men stripped their appeals to their essentials. "I have kept my word," said Gore, who has served as Bill Clinton's vice president for two terms. He mentioned his service in Vietnam, a strong marriage of 30 years and said the past eight years have brought economic prosperity and reduced crime. "I'll make you one promise here. You ain't seen nothing yet and I will keep that promise." Republican Bush got the last word. "I think after three debates, the good people of this country understand there is a difference," he said. "The difference between a big federal government and someone who is coming from outside Washington who will trust individuals." In their final debate, both candidates steered away from partisanship on the Middle East, as President Bill Clinton returned from an emergency summit that brought a promise by Israelis and Palestinians to seek an end to recent violence. "I've been a leader, a person who has to set a clear vision and convince people to follow, and I've got a strategy for the Middle East," Bush said in response to an undecided voter who asked why each man thought he would be the best president for dealing with the Mideast crisis. After the debate, Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney said Bush's strategy for Mideast peace include rebuilding "the elements of trust" Bush's father, President George Bush, had in the region during the Gulf War. Gore touted his experience, saying he recently took two days off from campaigning to help in preparations for Clinton's work at the summit in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt. "Our country's team did a great job," Gore said. Bush, too, praised Clinton's efforts at the summit, saying, "Our nation needs to speak with one voice at this time, and I applaud the president."

But the rivals for the world's most powerful office gave their often-repeated differing view of America's global role. Gore said the U.S. military is stronger than it's ever been and promised to "make sure that it stays that way" by improving readiness, developing modern weapons and raising military pay. He proposed spending dlrs 100 billion more on defense, compared to the dlrs 45 billion Bush has in his budget, although Bush has insisted he would build a stronger military than Gore. Bush made no attempt to contest the spending difference, saying, "If this were a spending contest, I'd come in second." The Republican repeated his plans for only limited use of U.S. forces for peacekeeping, saying any mission involving U.S. troops must have clear goals, adequate force and a well-defined exit strategy. Despite his position on limited peacekeeping abroad, Bush said, "This is a peaceful nation, and I intend to keep the peace," Gore has slipped slightly in the polls since the first campaign debate Oct. 3 in Boston, and from the opening moments, the vice president bore in on Bush as a defender of the privileged. Responding to questions mostly on domestic concerns from preselected undecided voters, Gore accused Bush of siding with drug companies and other powerful interests at the expense of the middle class. Bush denied it, and shot back that after eight years of bickering in Washington, "I can get something positive done on behalf of the people." "If you want someone who will support ... the big drug companies, this is your man," Gore insisted, standing a few feet away from his campaign rival on a debate stage. "If you want someone who will fight for you ... then I want to fight for you." Bush, whose father was president for four years, several times in the debate tried to separate himself from the policies and style of Washington, D.C., while Gore stressed his participation in Clinton administration domestic successes. The two men clashed at length over economics in the fast-paced debate. Bush said Gore is proposing the "largest increase in federal spending in years, and there's just not going to be enough money" to pay for it. Gore said Bush was wrong, adding his rival's dlrs 1.3 billion tax plan would lavish relief on the wealthy while shortchanging critical domestic programs. Most polls show Bush ahead of the vice president by a scant point or two, and the debate at the field house at Washington University represented the last, best chance for one man or the other to gain the support of a large critical bloc of undecided voters. Gore was the aggressor, particularly early in the evening. At one point, as Bush was answering one question, the vice president walked to within three or four feet of the governor on stage and faced his rival. Bush, noticing that his rival had drawn close, responded with a surprised look and a smile. In a debate that ranged broadly over campaign topics, a question about the death penalty provided an emotional moment. Bush was told by one questioner, a black man, that in an earlier debate he had seemed proud of the fact that Texas had executed more criminals than any other state. "I'm not proud of that," Bush said in soft-spoken reply. "Some of the hardest moments since I've been the governor of Texas is to deal with those cases." Several times he referred to his questioner as "sir," and several times, stressed he wasn't proud, merely carrying out his responsibilities as governor. In all, Texas has executed 145 inmates since Bush took office in 1995. Four of the five high school and college debate coaches on an Associated Press panel voted Gore the winner. The fifth picked Bush. They judged the candidates in five categories _ reasoning, evidence, organization, refutation, cross-examination and presentation. The national debate began with a moment of silence in memory of Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, killed along with his son and a campaign aide Tuesday night when his small plane went down in bad weather. Bush and Gore both bowed their heads and closed their eyes when moderator Jim Lehrer asked for a moment of silence.


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