SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) -- With attention already shifting to the next presidential debate, Al Gore unveiled a new assault against George W. Bush, whose campaign aides said the Democratic nominee "consistently and repeatedly" makes up things while campaigning.
Both candidates were easing their campaign schedules Monday for debate preparation -- Republican Bush at his Texas ranch and Gore in Florida -- with few public events before Wednesday night's confrontation.
There was no such halt in harsh exchanges between strategists. Gore stepped up his assault on Bush, dispatching running mate Joseph Lieberman to Texas for a "failed leadership tour" later this week bashing Bush's record as governor.
That's part of a coordinated assault, in which surrogates will be sent to battleground states sounding the same theme. Democratic National Committee officials said they also will step up advertising criticizing Bush on environmental, health and gun-control issues, where they see him as vulnerable.
In addition, Democrats are launching a new assault on Bush's sometimes-jumbled campaign rhetoric by issuing daily "Bush bloopers."
Campaign officials said a portion of the campaign's Web site will be devoted to attacking Bush for those flubs, and the DNC will launch a "Bush light" campaign designed to raise questions about his intellectual capacity.
Lieberman will be sent to Texas after Wednesday's debate in Winston-Salem, N.C., second in a series of three presidential face-offs.
Bush and his aides have made much of what they see as Gore's tendency to exaggerate on his accomplishments, which they argue raise questions about his credibility. The new Gore offensive is designed to blunt Bush's attack.
"The vice president has consistently and repeatedly made up things, exaggerated, embellished facts," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said on "Fox News Sunday."
Gore campaign spokesman Chris Lehane denied that the vice president was turning the race negative with his new assault.
"We have always said we're going to have a compare and contrast on the public policy issues," Lehane said. He said the timing was designed to sharpen differences between Gore and Bush in the campaign's final month, when many voters tune in for the first time.
"It's been our assumption that this will be a time period when people are paying particularly close attention to the race, and someone's record as governor is a great indicator of what type of choices they would make as president," Lehane said.
He said health, environmental and gun-control issues were picked because Bush is vulnerable. The gun issue centers on a Texas law granting permits for concealed weapons and revelations last week that hundreds of convicted criminals and people with mental problems were able to obtain those permits.
Democrats argue that Republican charges about exaggeration come because he offers few new ideas.
"What you have ... is a Republican campaign that is out of gas and out of ideas," said Gore adviser Paul Begala.
The Bush campaign rejected the Democrats' approach.
"I think this is a hastily arranged strategy as a transparent effort to shift the focus away from the sustained criticism of Al Gore's pattern of making up facts," said Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett.
A new USA Today-CNN-Gallup tracking poll published Monday had good news for the Bush camp.
The telephone survey conducted Thursday through Saturday found the Texas governor moving ahead of Gore, 49 percent to 41 percent; Gore had led by as much as 11 percentage points last week. The new poll surveyed 769 likely voters and had a reported margin of error of 4 percentage points, plus or minus.
Lieberman, meanwhile, urged a focus on issues. "This nonsense is not what the campaign ought to be all about," the Democratic vice presidential candidate said.
Bush and Gore were leaving the field to their strategists and aides, but Gore said he wanted to focus attention on education before and during the debate. The nominees planned to spend Monday huddled with advisers for briefings and rehearsals.
On Tuesday, Bush heads to Gore's home state of Tennessee, where the race is surprisingly close. Gore plans to tout his education plans that day in Florida, another unexpectedly competitive state.
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