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The BBC's Philippa Thomas
"In the very first statements the candidates made their fundamental differences clear"
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Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Gore and Bush lock horns
Televised debate between Al Gore and George Bush Jnr.
The two candidates clashed over a wide range of issues
The crucial first televised debate of the American presidential election campaign has taken place in Boston.

It is time for a fresh start after a season of cynicism

George Bush
Democratic Vice-President Al Gore and Republican Texas governor George W Bush squared up for the 90-minute clash which focused on issues ranging from taxation to foreign policy.

The two men have been running neck and neck in the opinion polls with only five weeks of campaigning left.

However, most analysts agree that neither man appeared to deliver a knock-out blow during the debate, or emerge as a clear winner.

A BBC correspondent says the debate was characterised by a relentless recitation of fact by Mr Gore, countered by the more down-to-earth style of Mr Bush.

Policy arguments

The vice-president's argument remained focused on a main theme that only he could preserve America's prosperity.

Al Gore and George Bush
The debate is seen as a test of both candidates' mettle
Mr Gore attacked Mr Bush's tax-cut proposals in particular, arguing that they would come at the expense of America's less well off.

"He spends more money for tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% than all of his new spending proposals for healthcare, prescription drugs, education and national defence," said Mr Gore.

Mr Bush dismissed Mr Gore's argument as derived from "phony figures", and "fuzzy math". "Everyone who pays taxes should get tax-relief," he said.

The two men also clashed over a range of issues ranging from defence and the environment to reform of America's welfare state.

Mr Bush said Mr Gore and the Democrats had had their chance to reform Medicare but had failed, instead engaging in "Mediscare" by claiming Republicans would cut benefits for the elderly.

'Fresh start'

On foreign policy, Mr Gore adopted a tough pro-interventionalist stance, and gave a commitment to increase military spending.

I may not be the most exciting politician, I will work hard for you every day... I will never let you down

Al Gore
Both men also pledged to commit further spending to developing and improving the efficiency of energy resources.

As the debate drew to a close, Mr Bush attacked Mr Gore's record in office and said he wanted America to enjoy a "fresh start after a season of cynicism".

Mr Gore rebutted these criticisms and steered the debate back on policy issues, saying he wanted to "focus on the problems and not attack each other."

Contrasting styles

With his grasp of policy details and more than 40 debates during a 25-year career in Washington under his belt, Mr Gore's steely grasp of facts and figures appeared to have Mr Bush on the defensive for much of the time.

Presidential debate between Al Gore and George Bush Jnr
Mr Bush accused Mr Gore of failing to deliver as vice-president
His aggressive style and uncanny command of intricate policy details contrasted with Mr Bush's more relaxed approach.

However, while Mr Bush avoided making any of the slip-ups that have dogged his campaign, Mr Gore seemed unable to deliver an easily digestible manifesto of his policies.

Analysts say the early evening prime time debate allowed the American public to see both candidates close-up, unvarnished and unfiltered by their respective spin doctors and advisers.

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