CHICAGO -- Al Gore brought to the crucial Midwest a plan to require teacher certification, testing and -- where there's failure -- firing as a condition for receiving federal education dollars, while George W. Bush proposed a $3 billion seed fund to expand charter schools.
But the presidential opponents' nominal focus yesterday on issues dear to swing voters was all but drowned out by their volley of barbs.
Speaking with reporters after his announcement at a Mission Viejo, Calif., grade school, Bush vented mounting frustration with Gore's attacks on his experience.
"It's amazing that a person running for president of the United States would look people in the eye and say I've never submitted a budget as governor, and continue to say so when I did," the GOP Texas governor said.
Democrat Gore, who has tried to portray Bush as inexperienced, reached into his pocket after a Chicago conference of medical journalists and produced what he said was Bush's 1995 budget -- 2 1/2 pages folded in fours.
"If you think that's a budget, maybe I could convince you it's a duck," Gore said.
On Wednesday, Bush aides gave reporters the much more voluminous budget materials created during the Texas governor's other years in office. In a most unusual budget battle, Bush's campaign has distributed stacks of documents, several inches thick, that appear to be budget submissions from Bush during his tenure in Texas.
In Chicago, Gore put a health-care twist on his mantra that Bush is "smug." Dismissing Bush's proposal to give $2,000 tax credits to help poor families pay for health insurance, Gore said: "I do not believe that we can be satisfied with the smug assumption that our health care challenges will simply take care of themselves."
Gore told reporters he did not mean anything personal by his repeated use of words like "smug" and "arrogant" to criticize Bush.
Bush stuck to issues in his public remarks. His Charter School Homestead Fund would support $3 billion in loan guarantees for charter schools during its first two years, providing enough money for 2,000 schools -- "double the existing number," he promised.
Charter schools are public schools that are given high levels of flexibility in the way they conduct class. In exchange, these schools are expected to produce high test scores from students.
Gore has called for tripling the number of charter schools.