WASHINGTON - Criticized by Texas Gov. George W. Bush for engaging in a "consistent pattern of exaggeration," Vice President Al Gore denied yesterday that he embellishes the truth and said Republicans are resorting to personal attacks and "abandoning the issues."
Gore's veracity returned as an issue in the campaign after last week's debate in Boston. There, Gore said he traveled with a top federal disaster official to Texas in 1998 to observe fire damage and separately noted how a Florida high school student was forced to stand because of classroom overcrowding.
Gore later said he made a "mistake" about traveling with Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt to Texas. But he stood by his story of a Sarasota High School student, who was later given a desk. Gore said 36 students "crammed" into a room for 24 youths was wrong.
Campaigning in Florida, Bush vowed to use his next debate with Gore on Wednesday to go after the vice president for distortions of Bush's agenda.
"I think the man is prone to exaggeration. I think it appeared that way during the debate," Bush said. "What I'm going to have to do is make sure he doesn't consistently exaggerate my numbers and my plans, and I'm going to be very firm about that, of course."
When asked by reporters if he had a tendency to embellish facts and his resume, Gore yesterday responded, "No I do not."
"These are negative personal attacks of the kind that I simply do not engage in," he added.
With Bush's new impetus to attack Gore's truthfulness and his promise to raise the issue in the next debate, the vice president said he "will respond to whatever comes up" but would not "make personal attacks of my own against Governor Bush."
"Well I think it's obvious what's going on with [the embellishment issue]," Gore said. "It's an ad hominem personal attack because they're abandoning the issues." Gore said he took a pass on two opportunities to attack Bush arising from the Boston debate. Bush said his campaign had been outspent by Democrats when in fact he has spent twice as much as Gore. And Bush contended that Gore's budget would require "20,000 new bureaucrats," when that number was based on a partisan Republican study.
"It's just a mistake on his part. And it's the kind that he makes on a regular basis and the kind that are relatively commonplace in political dialogue in the United States," Gore said.