SARASOTA, Fla. -- The sniping between Al Gore and George W. Bush intensified as they headed back to the campaign trail Tuesday on the eve of their second debate.
Bush was tweaking his rival at a rally in Gore's home state of Tennessee, where polls suggest a close race. Gore was touting his college aid proposals in Florida, another competitive state.
After taking Monday off to prepare for Wednesday's 90-minute debate in North Carolina, both men hoped to frame the issues for the face-off at their campaign events.
"We need middle-class tax cuts to make college more affordable," Gore said in remarks prepared for delivery Tuesday at Manatee Community College.
His daughter and adviser, Karenna Gore Schiff, said Gore also planned to use the debates to discuss his proposals for smaller classes, universal preschool, children's health insurance and prescription drug coverage for Medicare.
Asked on CBS' "Early Show" whether her father would change his style because of criticism of his debate performance last week, including his disapproving noises when Bush was speaking, Schiff predicted viewers would see "the same Al Gore, probably just a few less sighs."
Locked in a close race, Gore's camp took to branding Bush as a bumbler who can't defend his proposals coherently. Bush's team continued the theme that Gore can't be believed.
"Governor Bush seems incapable of talking about the important issues in this campaign in a coherent way," said Gore deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani.
Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett responded: "This strategy is one of a campaign that is running out of options and is grasping at straws."
At a Florida press conference, Democratic National Committee chairman Joe Andrew announced an intensified campaign of television commercials, a "Bush Lite" Web site and "truth squad" to hammer at Bush.
Andrew and Gore campaign officials insist the assault is "fair game" because it's on Bush policy proposals and misstatements, though the language harshly refers to Bush as a "bumbler."
The assault also comes as the latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup tracking poll showed Bush 8 points ahead of Gore, 50 percent to 42 percent, with an error margin of 4 percentage points.
"We're not talking about personal attacks on individual character," said Andrew. "We're talking about his record. We're going to continue to talk about his record and talk about it loud and clear."
Bartlett turned that around, saying the announcement raises additional questions about Gore's credibility because he only last week pledged not to launch personal attacks.
"He's violated that pledge today by unleashing his top aides to attack Governor Bush in a very personal way," Bartlett said.
For their part, the Bush camp labeled Gore "a serial exaggerator ... a man who has difficulty telling the truth," noting statements Gore made in last week's debate.
Gore described a Florida schoolgirl he said was forced to stand in class because the room was overcrowded, and a tour of Texas he took with disaster director James Lee Witt.
Republicans said both statements were exaggerations.
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