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The BBC's Phillipa Thomas reports
"This was Al Gore's last chance to outperform his rival"
 real 56k

The BBC's Nick Bryant
"They clashed on education, gun control and tax cuts"
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The BBC's Washington Correspondent, Paul Reynolds
"At times they strutted about agressively"
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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
Gore goes on the warpath
Candidates Bush and Gore in TV debate
Candidates' last chance to attract votes in head-to-head debate
Democrat Al Gore went on the offensive against Republican George W Bush on Tuesday night in the third and final debate between the US presidential candidates before polling day.

debate scene
The candidates share a moment of silence for Mel Carnahan
In an attempt to regain the upper hand in the presidential race, Mr Gore attacked his rival over his policies on health, education and taxes.

However, Mr Bush accused the vice-president of being a "big spender" in the mould of previous Democrats who have sought - and failed - to reach the White House.

The two candidates fielded questions from a panel of undecided voters. The ballot is set to be very close and the floating voters could well decide the outcome.

'I'm your man'

The debate, at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, began on a sombre note with a moment's silence to mark Monday night's aeroplane crash in which the Democratic Governor of Missouri, Mel Carnahan, his son, and his campaign adviser were all killed.

If you want somebody who will fight for you... then I am your man

Al Gore
But Mr Gore was quick to come out fighting - the pressure on him to perform after failing to come out ahead in his first two encounters with Mr Bush.

The Democrat portrayed himself as a fighter for ordinary people, and his rival as a defender of the privileged.

The centrepiece of Mr Bush's campaign is a $1.3 trillion tax cut, while Mr Gore has offered significant expansion of social spending yet pledged to pay down the national debt by 2012.

Gore: Experienced and confident
Mr Gore said of his rival: "If you want someone who believes we were better off eight years ago than we are now and that we ought to go back to the kinds of policies we had back then... here is your man.

"If you want somebody who will fight for you and will fight to have middle-class tax cuts, then I am your man," he added.

'Time to get something done'

In response, the Texas governor said his rival was a "big spender".

I can get something positive done on behalf of the people

George W Bush
"If this were a spending contest I'd come in second," Mr Bush said proudly.

Mr Bush took a swipe at the Democrats' tenure in the White House.

He said: "In eight years they haven't gotten anything done on Medicare, on social security, a patients' bill of rights. It's time to get something done."

Bush in final debate
Bush: Quiet and measured
BBC Washington correspondent Tom Carver says Al Gore probably came out on top.

Our correspondent said Mr Gore strolled around looking much more confident while Mr Bush, who is not naturally aggressive, stayed in his chair.

The vice-president also made Mr Bush look weak on policy details, accusing him of not knowing what he was talking about.

Still neck-and-neck

Nonetheless, snap TV network polls after the debate failed to show a clear win for the vice-president. A CBS poll gave Mr Gore 45% to Mr Bush's 40%, while an ABC survey declared it a tie.

A CNN poll of viewers before the debate put Mr Bush ahead by 52% to 43%. But after the encounter, 46% of these said they thought Mr Gore had done a better job, and 44% said Mr Bush had come out on top.

With the final debate behind them, the two presidential candidates will now focus on the last three weeks of campaigning before Americans choose their new leader on 7 November.

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See also:

16 Oct 00 | Americas
Missouri moves centre stage
17 Oct 00 | Americas
Missouri governor dies in air crash
17 Oct 00 | Americas
Bush evokes Reagan era
13 Oct 00 | Americas
Gore dismisses debate 'defeat'
10 Oct 00 | Americas
White lies may cost Gore
05 Sep 00 | Election news
Why Bushisms matter
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