Bush's office called the remarks "a little odd."
In a keynote address to the Democratic Leadership Council, Gore questioned whether GOP leaders govern as compassionately as their rhetoric suggests. "Compassion is more than a pretty word," he said. "There is a long road between rhetoric and results."
He didn't mention Bush by name, but aides said the address was aimed squarely at the Texas governor, who is a son of former President Bush. The younger Bush is the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000.
Neither man has declared his intention to run for president. Still, the exchange seemed like the first blush of the 2000 campaign.
George W. Bush
"I do think it's a little odd," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes said from Austin, Texas. "The vice president must be a little nervous about an election that is two years away to take on a governor who has not even decided whether he will run or not."
Bush, re-elected Nov. 3 by a wide margin, coined the phrase "compassionate conservatism" to explain his efforts to maintain core GOP values without turning away moderate Republican and Democratic voters.
Gore told the Democratic group, "Some now say that what we need is 'compassionate conservatism.' They call for opportunity, combined with responsibility." As a sarcastic aside, he added: "I wonder where that came from."
He was suggesting that Bush and like-minded Republicans are borrowing from President Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council, a group of moderate Democrats who held their 13th annual convention Wednesday.
Gore, the group's keynote speaker, shared billing with three Democrats who may challenge him for the nomination: Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Gore dominated the show early, using his speech to test the themes of his yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign. Kerrey, Kerry and Gephardt, meanwhile, were limited by DLC officials to single-topic addresses.
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