METAIRIE, La. -- Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore each accused the other of compromising himself for campaign cash as they tried to grab the fund-raising reform issue for the general election.
Looking past Tuesday's round of primaries against vanquished foes, Bush also complained that Gore ''will say anything to get elected'' and Gore wondered about Bush's readiness to run the country.
Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan joined the fray today, echoing the attacks on the presumptive nominees of the two major parties. On NBC's ''Today'' show, Buchanan said Bush ''hasn't demonstrated the depth or capacity or wisdom or knowledge'' to be president.
And he said the vice president ''hasn't told the truth'' about his participation in a fund raiser at a Buddhist temple during his 1996 re-election campaign. Gore's focus now on overhauling campaign finance rules carries ''a real element of cynicism,'' said Buchanan, who hopes to pick up the anti-establishment mantle used by John McCain.
In Florida, Bush used the ''say anything'' line about Gore several times Sunday and criticized the Buddhist temple event.
''The more he talks about campaign funding reform, the better off it will be for my campaign,'' said Bush, who's campaigning today in New Orleans, Mississippi and Oklahoma.
Gore was visiting a Miami-area hospital today to keep the pressure on Bush, this time on health care. Aides said he would repeat charges he made in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday: That the governor cares nothing for expanding access to health insurance because it is not a priority for his campaign financiers.
''If you're listening primarily to large, soft-money contributors who are wealthy and generally healthy and have all the health insurance you could want, you don't have any way of understanding what the real problem is'' with the uninsured, Gore told the AP.
Later today, Gore flies to Nashville to be in position to vote for himself in Tennessee's Democratic primary Tuesday. There, he was meeting with more than 40 mayors to make the point, aides said, that he has grass-roots backing in contrast to Bush's top-down support from the GOP establishment.
In the AP interview, Gore said Bush's five-year, $483 billion tax-cut plan would put Social Security, Medicare and health care in general at risk.
''In the words of John McCain, he doesn't put one penny into Social Security, one penny into Medicare or one penny into expanding access to health care,'' the vice president said, quoting the Arizona senator whom Bush knocked out of the GOP presidential race last week.
Gore also questioned Bush's readiness to lead the country.
Bush replied: ''The vice president obviously believes that all knowledge and wisdom emanates out of Washington. I don't think that. I think all wisdom and knowledge emanates from the people.''
The exchange came as the presumptive nominees crossed into each other's home territory in search of votes. Tennessee and five other Southern states -- Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas -- hold primaries Tuesday, awarding 341 Republican and 566 Democratic convention delegates.
Gore's only challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley, dropped out after being swept in last week's Super Tuesday primaries. Over the weekend, the vice president won uncontested votes in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota and Nevada, picking up 182 delegates. That brought his delegate total to 1,679, with 2,170 needed to nominate.
On Sunday, Gore went to church in Houston and later to a health care forum near Dallas, before following Bush to Florida. Bush traveled to Knoxville in Gore's home state of Tennessee before spending the night in suburban New Orleans.
While in Tennessee, Bush picked up the endorsement of Sen. Fred Thompson, who had supported McCain. Thompson, who headed an investigation into the 1996 fund-raising problems, tweaked Gore for his interest in campaign finance reform.
''Wow, I sure could have used his help a couple of years ago, when we and the rest of the nation were watching them parade before us an array of illegalities, improprieties, taking the Fifth Amendment, absentee witnesses, all the time the Justice Department was trying to keep a lid on it and keep the facts from the American people,'' Thompson said.
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