By TOM RAUM
AUSTIN, Texas — Forget any return to civility in the excruciatingly close presidential race. To Al Gore’s camp, George W. Bush is a bumbler and babbler. Bush advocates call Gore "a serial exaggerator," a guy who just can’t tell the truth.
Gore’s embellishments and Bush’s botches could pose serious political problems for each in the final month of the campaign, analysts and politicians suggest. And both camps are intensifying their criticism.
The Bush campaign has issued e-mail press releases it calls "The Gore Detector: A Regular Report on Al Gore’s Adventures with the Truth." And Gore officials say a portion of his Web site will be devoted to Bush’s flubs.
Gore’s occasional trouble with the facts and Bush’s problems with language are long-recognized traits that are getting added attention with the race so close in the final weeks of the campaign.
"Both problems are equally serious and disturbing," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. He said Bush’s gaffes reinforce suggestions of intellectual shortcomings while Gore’s embellishments fuel concerns about his honesty.
"Americans want someone as their president who is smart enough for the job. But they also want someone who isn’t always lying to them," Sabato said.
Eight of 10 people think Gore is intelligent and well-informed compared with seven of 10 for Bush, according to Time-CNN and Newsweek polls. But people think Bush is more likely than Gore to say what he believes and not just what voters want to hear, the polls say.
Gore foes point to two statements in particular from last week’s debate: He said he inspected flood and fire damage in Texas in 1998 with James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and he said a 15-year-old Sarasota, Fla., girl was having to stand in an overcrowded science class.
Gore has since acknowledged that he went to Texas but not with Witt and not to the disaster area. And the principal of the school in Sarasota said the girl stood for only one day.
Gore said over the weekend that he had made factual mistakes, but he said Bush had too, and "I don’t describe that as fictitious or an exaggeration. It’s just a mistake."
Meanwhile, Bush detractors cite his sometimes convoluted descriptions, jumbled syntax and occasional difficulty explaining his own programs.
Over the weekend in Florida, Bush fumbled his arithmetic on taxes and wound up just spitting out numbers. At another point, he criticized Gore’s health plan saying, "He wants the doctors to make every decision on behalf of every patient," just what Bush contends wouldn’t happen.
While some critics say Bush’s mistakes indicate a shaky grasp of issues and facts, Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas and a longtime Bush watcher, suggests the more likely problem is fatigue.
"When he gets tired and is under pressure, he has a tendency to misspeak," Buchanan said.
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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