Bush: Gore 'Will Say Anything'

george w. bush Grace King High School in Metairie, La.
Al Gore charged Monday that George W. Bush lacks a health care agenda because he is beholden to campaign donors interested only in a tax cut. Bush countered it was Gore who compromised himself for campaign cash and said "this guy will say anything to get elected.''

The presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees looked past their vanquished party rivals to the general election as they campaigned ahead of Tuesday's slate of six Southern primaries.

At a rally in Brandon, Miss., Bush responded to Gore's suggestion that Bush isn't ready to lead.

"If America is pleased with what Clinton-Gore has done to the spirit of America, I'm not the right person,'' Bush said on stage with the state's two GOP senators, Majority Leader Trent Lott and Thad Cochran. "But if America wants somebody not of Washington, if America wants somebody who trusts people, not the government, if America is interested in somebody who knows how to lead, come and join this campaign.''

In Miami, Gore won applause from doctors, nurses and hospital administrators at Jackson Memorial Medical Center when he contrasted his health care proposal to what he called Bush's lack of a comprehensive health agenda.

"He has no plan to expand access to health care, no plan to have a national 'patients' bill of rights,' no plan to give seniors help with prescription drugs,'' said Gore. The vice president said he wants to expand CHIPS, a federal-state health insurance program, to all children and low-income parents, and allow seniors between ages 55 and 65 to buy into Medicare.

"If he would join me in getting rid of this special interest money, he would be freed up to start responding to what the American people want,'' Gore said of his Republican opponent.

Delegates At Stake On Southern Tuesday:

Florida Primary
D-161, R-80

Louisiana Primary
D-61, R-29

Mississippi Primary
D-37, R-33

Oklahoma Primary
D-45, R-38

Tennessee Primary
D-68, R-37

Texas Primary
D-194, R-124

D-566, R-341

Also in Miami, the vice president demanded an apology from the National Rifle Association.

On Sunday, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said that President Clinton exploits gun deaths for political purposes.

Gore said that LaPierre's statements reveal a "kind of sickness at the very heart of the NRA."

Campaigning in Louisiana, Bush said he favors expansion of CHIPS, making it less expensive for employers to provide health insurance, and encouraging states to develop basic health care safety nets that "trust people to make decisions for themselves.'' He said Gore's attitude was that "the Federal government will make all health care decisions for all people at all times.''

Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischewas more blunt, pointing to Gore's appearance at a fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple during the '96 campaign: "If anybody's in the tank, it's Al Gore. We're expecting Al Gore to come out any day with a health care plan for Buddhist monks.''

At Grace King High School outside New Orleans, a student asked Bush why he wouldn't answer more questions about whether he ever used illegal drugs. Bush said reporters had probed his past. "You can draw any conclusions you want, but what you cannot draw is the conclusion that I have not brought honor and respect and dignity to the highest office in my state,'' Bush said.

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On CBS' The Early Show on Monday, one political observer warned voters to prepare for a nasty campaign season between now and November.

"George Bush and Al Gore are going to get scrutiny like we've never seen before, and they're going to scrutinize each other they're going to duke it out for a long time," said Craig Crawford, editor-in-chief of National Journal's The Hotline.

Gore's only challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bill Bradley, dropped out after being swept in last week's Super Tuesday primaries. Bush's GOP rival, John McCain, has suspended his campaign. Ever since, Gore and Bush have been vying for the Arizona Senator's "straight talk" reform mantle.

"I think both of them want to fill John McCain's shoes if they'll fit," says the Hotline's Crawford, adding, "right now, Gore's jumped out of the starting gate with a better handle on those voters."

Six Southern states - Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas - hold primaries on Tuesday, awarding 341 Republican and 566 Democratic convention delegates