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The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Florida
"Much of the campaign's venom is now in television adverts"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 14:19 GMT
Gore and Bush gagging for votes
Mr Bush on Jay Leno show
Bush (left) confidently lampoons his opponent on TV
With just a week to go to election day, the Republican and Democratic candidates in the US presidential race are trying to woo undecided voters with humour.

In a campaign that often seems to be more about character than policies, Halloween appearances on the Jay Leno talk show gave both presidential hopefuls the opportunity to show the more frivolous side of their personalities.

Texas Governor and Republican contender George W Bush was the first to joust with comedian Jay Leno.

Vice President Al Gore
Mr Gore accuses his opponent of "fuzzy maths".

When the host reached under his desk and pulled on a Bush mask, the Texas governor produced one of his own and looked into the camera in the visage of his opponent, Vice-President Gore.

"This is more scary," joked Mr Bush.

Tongue-tied

Continuing the Halloween theme, Jay Leno lit a candle in a carved pumpkin as Bush warned: "Jay, you can't light that in here with all this flammabbabble stuff around."

"I think the word you're searching for is flammable," Leno retorted - a reference to Mr Bush's well-documented tendency to mispronounce words.

"No Jay, look at the sign," Mr Bush replied, as the camera cut to a bright red sign reading: "Warning - Highly Flammabbabble".

Bush campaigning in Bellevue, Washington state with pumpkin
Bush Halloween tricks: A pumpkin with his face carved on it

When it was Al Gore's turn to get the Jay Leno treatment, the comedian produced a copy of the Rolling Stone magazine, for which Mr Gore had posed.

"Thank you for the million laughs," Jay Leno cracked, as he held the magazine up for cameras and noted that the cover photo of Mr Gore in khaki pants "had to be airbrushed because it was too sexy".

Mr Gore, often lampooned for his stiff posture, responded in a deadpan manner, saying: "I think people buy that magazine for the articles".

Mr Leno also showed some pictures from the annual Halloween parties Mr Gore and his wife, Tipper, have thrown at the vice-presidential mansion in Washington.

In one, Mr Gore, dressed up as Frankenstein, is speaking on the telephone.

Mr Gore confided that the call actually involved top US national security advisers about some genuine foreign policy crisis.

Asked what he would do in a similar situation if he was president, Mr Gore quipped: "It might help if it was, like a warning to Saddam Hussein".

Kiss and tell

Earlier, on a women's cable channel, Mr Gore and his wife Tipper tried to explain all the kissing they have done lately on campaign stages. "Well, we want people to try it at home," Mrs Gore said with a laugh.

Tipper and Al Gore
Kissing has become a theme of the campaign

For both Mr Gore and Mr Bush, the talk show circuit gives them a chance to connect with undecided voters nationwide.

Mr Leno says Americans like to learn by osmosis and admits that the jokes he makes at the candidates' expense are "trying to show that they're human and friendly and have a lighter side".

"With these jokes we're not questioning anybody's patriotism," says Mr Leno.

"I mean what you're doing is finding human foibles and making it funny. These people spend millions of dollars trying to hide various human frailties, and we do the same thing trying to bring them out," he says.

With theatrical tears in his eyes, Mr Leno laments the demise of President Clinton, whose personal conduct has been a rich source for gags in recent years.

"It's the golden age. It's like when Fonzi left Happy Days. You know it's not the same. I mean, fat girls under the desk - we won't see that again in our lifetime," he says.

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See also:

01 Nov 00 | Americas
Gore off target
31 Oct 00 | Election challenge
Halloween on the campaign trail
20 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Bush and Gore fight for laughs
31 Oct 00 | Americas
Clinton seeks Republican apology
27 Oct 00 | Americas
Clinton seeks to rescue Democrats
26 Oct 00 | Americas
Bush calls in the big guns
28 Sep 00 | Americas
Key states to watch
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