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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
White lies may cost Gore
Al Gore
Gore's exaggerations are hugely damaging to him
By the BBC's Gordon Corera

It's hard to remember any US presidential race in recent history where there has been so much volatility and chopping and changing.

Just as one candidate looks like they are finally pulling ahead, they get knocked back down again.

Everyone thought that Al Gore came out better from the debates but the polls told another story, and all of a sudden George W Bush is back in the lead.

For Mr Gore, what has cost him most is his dangerous habit of exaggeration.

Gore caught out

In the first debate, Mr Gore claimed he had travelled round Texas fires with the head of the Federal Emergency Management agency when he hadn't.

Gore and Oprah
Gore tried to win women voters by discussing family values on Oprah's show...
Also in Boston, Mr Gore told the story of a Florida schoolgirl who didn't have a desk in her crowded classroom.

When they checked, journalists found that she had only been without a desk for one day.

This wouldn't be such an issue if it wasn't for the fact that it was not the first time Mr Gore had been caught out.

Bush kissing Oprah
...but Bush courted the female vote by kissing Oprah
A few days earlier, he had claimed his mother paid three times as much as her dog for the same drugs - not quite true - and in the past he has claimed he came under fire in Vietnam and as a reporter helped send people to jail.

Normally, these stories are at least based on a smidgen of truth - Mr Gore did not of course, as he claimed, invent the internet, but he did play a key role in aiding its development and did go to serve in Vietnam and was a successful investigative journalist.

But these exaggerations are hugely damaging to Mr Gore.

Issues vs character

The reason this is so crucial is that there is a continuing tension over how people make their choice of who to vote for.

Some say a candidate's stand on the issues are the main determinant, others say it's their character and personality.

George Bush
George Bush still leads on personality
When the number saying issues climbs, then Mr Gore rises in the polls because he leads in terms of who people trust to deal with the top issues like health, the economy, social security and education.

This had been happening in recent weeks.

But when the campaign focuses more on personality, then Mr Bush tends to do better as has happened after the first debate.

Essentially large swathes of the general public seem to have doubts about both candidates - they still don't really like Mr Gore that much and still aren't really sure that Mr Bush is up to the job, in terms of understanding of issues and detail.

Over the last month, the election may well turn on what the campaign focus on - if all the news is about Mr Gore's exaggerations he may well lose, if it's all about the issues then he should win.

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See also:

10 Oct 00 | Americas
Gore v Bush: Now it's personal
04 Oct 00 | Americas
Al Gore 'wins' TV debate
04 Oct 00 | Americas
Gore and Bush lock horns
04 Oct 00 | Americas
Analysis: Few sparks, little drama
06 Oct 00 | Americas
VP candidates play nice
06 Sep 00 | Americas
US networks relish Bush's gaffe
05 Sep 00 | Election news
Why Bushisms matter
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