Bush and Gore Strike Sparks in First Debate

Al Gore and George W. Bush have clashed in the first presidential debate, ranging on issues from prescription drugs to the campaign finance scandals. But who won?

ABCNEWS.com BOSTON, Oct. 4 — Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore sparred over the issues in their first

debate, contrasting their visions for the future as they picked apart one another’s chief policy proposals.

Bush painted the vice president as a man who would create “a big, exploding federal government.” Gore, sighing loudly at Bush’s points and occasionally shaking his head and smiling, cast his rival as likely to bust the budget with his $1.3 trillion tax cut.

With the polls deadlocked and tensions running high between their campaigns, Bush and Gore largely stuck to substance and avoided personal attacks in Tuesday night’s event.

But the Texas governor, answering a question from debate moderator Jim Lehrer about character, said he was disappointed in Gore’s involvement in the 1996 campaign fund-raising scandals, particularly his attendance at a Buddhist temple event that has been investigated by the Justice Department.

“I felt like there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House,” Bush said in a twist on his oft-repeated pledge to ring in a a new “responsibility era” in the nation. “They’ve moved the sign ‘The buck stops here’ from the Oval Office to ‘The buck stops here’ on the Lincoln Bedroom.”

Gore deflected the criticism. “You may want to focus on scandals, I want to focus on results,” Gore responded.

Gore then turned that into a challenge for Bush to support campaign finance reform.

“This current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either party,” Gore said.

Bush scoffed at the suggestion, seeming to think the vice president was referring to an earlier Gore challenge for him to stop spending unregulated “soft money” donations, saying, “I am not going to lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has no credibility on the issue.”

American Experience

Lehrer opened the debate by giving Gore a chance to skewer Bush, asking him why he had cast doubt on the Texas governor’s experience.

“I have actually not questioned Gov. Bush’s experience, I have questioned his proposals,” Gore said before rattling off a list of his own policy initiatives.

Pressed to explain past comments on Bush’s tax cut proposal that seemed to indicate he had, in fact, questioned the Texas governor’s experience, Gore said, “I said his tax cut plan raises the question of whether it’s the right choice for the country.”

For his part, Bush wore the lack of experience inside the Beltway as a badge of honor.

“Look, I fully recognize I’m not of Washington. I’m from Texas. And he’s got a lot of experience, but so do I. And I’ve been the chief executive officer of the second-biggest state in the union.”

But Bush said Gore’s chief experience has been failing to fulfill campaign promises, repeatedly campaigning to expand access to prescription drugs and reform Medicare yet failing in eight years in office to solve those problems.

“You’ve had your chance, Mr. Vice President,” Bush said. “You’ve been there for eight years and nothing has been done.” He also repeatedly characterized Gore’s blizzard of numbers regarding tax cuts and health care as “fuzzy math.”

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