- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 22, 2000

HANNIBAL, Mo. Vice President Al Gore yesterday accused Texas Gov. George W. Bush of trying to "stiff" the American people by ducking prime-time debates, an accusation the Bush camp called "silly."
"It is unprecedented in modern times for a major-party candidate to try to stiff the prime-time commission debate," Mr. Gore said yesterday.
Mr. Bush "apparently wants to see if he can get away with some Sunday morning talk show when nobody is watching much."
But Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes shot back that Mr. Gore might be feeling "a little out-negotiated" because he had accepted more than 40 debate invitations among which Mr. Bush could now choose.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett, who called the Gore charge "silly," said: "Governor Bush is going to participate in a modern-day record of five debates."
The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates has proposed three presidential face-offs: Oct. 3 in Boston, Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis. The vice-presidential nominees would debate Oct. 5 in Danville, Ky., and at another date and place to be determined.
While Mr. Bush has offered to take part in five debates, he has not specifically agreed to the commission's debates, which would be carried simultaneously by the major national television networks.
The Bush campaign is mulling 40 debate requests and has ruled nothing out, including the prime-time debates. But Mr. Bartlett said the commission "has been inflexible" in discussing the proposed schedule and format.
Mr. Gore yesterday completed his post-convention cruise of key Midwest states in Hannibal, boyhood home of author Mark Twain. Mr. Gore floated down the Mississippi River from Keokuk, Iowa, to Canton, Mo., aboard the paddle boat Mark Twain.
"If you don't want specifics, this is your chance to leave," Mr. Gore told enthusiastic crowds at weekend rallies in Iowa towns such as Bellevue, Dubuque and Keokuk.
From La Crosse, Wis., to Muscatine, Iowa, from Moline, Ill. to Canton, Mo., Mr. Gore played to working people during his Midwest swing. He pushed for a $1 increase in the minimum wage. He promised seniors he would add a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare. He said he would use the nation's budget surplus to reduce the national debt and offer tax credits for specific needs, such as college tuition and child care.
Mr. Gore began the last day of his river cruise with a round of television interviews. The vice president refused to comment when asked whether President Clinton should be tried once he leaves office.
"That is a decision that must be handled outside of any political influence or even commentary," Mr. Gore told ABC. "I think it's a matter that has to be approached within the legal system."
Mr. Clinton "said he would never ask for or accept a pardon, so it makes the matter moot," Mr. Gore added.
In Milwaukee, Mr. Bush accused Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore of presiding over a slide in Pentagon morale and resources. "The next president will inherit a military in decline," he told a veterans' convention.
Mr. Bush pressed for a $1-billion-a-year larger pay raise for the military and proposed a $310 million program to fix up schools on military bases.
"As commander in chief, I will give our military a clear sense of mission," he told the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Mr. Bush said the Clinton-Gore administration in 1993 had inherited "a military ready for the dangers and the challenges facing our nation. The next president will inherit a military in decline."
"As president, I will rebuild the military power of the United States," he asserted.
If elected, Mr. Bush said he would order "an immediate" review of all overseas deployments, including those in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
The audience gave him a standing ovation. Mr. Gore addresses the group today.
Also today, the Gore campaign will begin a multimillion-dollar buy in 18 battleground states for a campaign ad that will describe Mr. Gore's biography.
Mr. Bush focused on military and educational policy as he began a two-week blitz of states that have voted Democratic in recent presidential elections.
The Texas governor was campaigning in Wisconsin and Iowa yesterday and planned stops in Illinois and Missouri today. Mr. Bush's campaign schedule over the next few weeks will coincide with a multi-million-dollar television advertising campaign in 21 states focusing on education.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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