CONCORD, N.H. -- Bill Bradley said today he stepped up his criticism of Al Gore's ''misrepresentations'' on campaign fund-raising and abortion because it was ''time to tell the people what was the truth.''
Gore accuses his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination of stooping to ''personal vilification.''
In the GOP race, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain each argued that they are best able to return the presidency to the Republicans, with McCain boasting he'd beat the Democrats ''like a drum.''
Bush said personal attacks ''don't bother me much,'' even when critics question his intelligence. ''I'd rather be underestimated than feared,'' he said on NBC's ''Today.''
As the presidential hopefuls headed into final appearances before Tuesday's leadoff primary, there were signs of increasingly competitive races in both parties.
With his once-impressive lead threatened, Gore faced a newly aggressive Bradley criticized Gore for an inconsistent voting record on abortion rights and for fund-raising scandals in the last election.
Waving a magazine article describing Gore's ties to a 1996 fund-raising event at a Buddhist temple, the former New Jersey senator demanded that the vice president clear the air.
''Quite frankly, I think there's more explanation that's needed,'' he said Sunday. ''Unless we clean up our own house, the Republicans are going to clean our house up in the fall.''
''What happened in 1996 was a disgrace on both the Republican and Democratic side, but it was particularly embarrassing for Democrats because we are the party of reform,'' Bradley said.
Gore released a letter from friendly congressional leaders asking Bradley to ease his criticism. Known for his own tough attacks, Gore accused his rival of ''stepping down ... to the level of personal vilification.''
Bradley denied that he turned to negative campaigning because Gore passed him in the polls, saying he had endured attacks by the vice president for the past six months.
''I thought a week before the primary it was important to put these misrepresentations in perspective for the people of New Hampshire so they could make a judgment,'' Bradley said today on ABC's ''Good Morning America.'' ''I thought it was about time to tell the people what was the truth.''
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