Bush shows slight lead after 2nd debate

by Julia Levy | 10/13/00 5:00am

A day after the second of three presidential debates leading up to the Nov. 7 elections, polls say Republican George W. Bush, governor of Texas, did slightly better than Democratic opponent Vice President Al Gore.

According to the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken after the debate's conclusion Wednesday night, 49 percent thought Bush had done the better job, while only 36 said the same for Gore.

Whereas 29 percent said Bush had done an "excellent" job in the debate, only 18 percent made that claim for Gore. Bush also beat Gore by 25 percentage points on "Who was more likeable?"

Maybe most telling for the election -- which is only 26 days away -- was that 40 percent said they had a "more favorable" opinion of Bush after the second debate. Only 24 percent made this claim on the Gore side.

The fact that 70 percent of the people polled after Wednesday's debate said Bush was "intelligent enough to be a good president" could be another setback for the Gore camp.

Gore only "won" on one count, beating Bush 47 to 39 percent on which candidate was better able to express himself.

The second debate, held Wednesday night at Wake Forest University, featured a few noticeable but not-so-substantive changes.

For starters, Bush and Gore sat side by side at a table, on the same level as moderator Jim Lehrer. Bush wore the same dark suit, red tie combination he sported in last week's debate, while Gore opted for the less-classic blue tie, dark suit look.

The general tone of the debate also changed since debate number one which commentators classified as "confrontational," as they criticized Gore for "exaggerating" and "sighing." After Gore admitted embellishing and made a personal apology on ABC News Wednesday, the exaggerations and sighs virtually disappeared, with an additional apology acknowledging that he had misstated some details.

The content of the debate was different as well. Debate one focused on domestic issues while number two centered mostly on foreign policy, dedicating about 45 minutes to a discussion on current world events and U.S. military involvement overseas.

Government Professor Lynn Vavreck called the foreign policy talk informative, but said she thought it could have been about 10 minutes shorter.

As a rule, Vavreck does not like to choose debate winners, but she predicted yesterday that, "we will see a slight Bush bounce in about three to five days. I think his performance on foreign policy exceeded people's expectations in such a big way that is what they will remember."

Despite the poll results, Vavreck said Gore did not do a "bad job." However, she pointed out that the restrained debate technique he used Wednesday night is not characteristic.

"He clearly wanted to speak up more, but he held himself back because his handlers told him not to be a bully," she said. "I think people were aware of that. I think it was a mistake for him try so hard to be different from how he actually is."

Both candidates were generally polite throughout their exchange -- following the Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman example set last week in the vice presidential debate.

The only outburst came at the end when Gore accused Bush of being unable to articulate his tax policy and questioned his Texas record, and Bush said the Vice President's repeated embellishments over the course of the campaign drew his credibility into question.

Overall, the candidates did more agreeing than disagreeing on foreign policy. Both said they supported many of the military missions the current administration has initiated overseas.

Bush, however, said the United States should take less foreign "nation building" initiatives, and should strive to help in other ways like forgiving Third World debt and trading debt for rainforest lands.

"Yes, we do have an obligation to the world, but we can't be all things to all people," he said. "We can help build coalitions, but we can't put our troops all around the world. We can lend money, but we've got to do it wisely."

Bush and Gore both agreed that the current violence in Israel must be "dampened" -- as Gore put it -- and both also agreed that the United States should take a stronger stand against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and try to remove him from power.

Both called the U.S. and NATO pressure in Yugoslavia that led to Milosevic's fall last week a victory for the United States. They both also said the International Monetary Fund needs reforms.

When they moved into domestic issues, more disagreements emerged, but the tone was still very civil -- especially when compared with the first debate's finger pointing.

Both candidates said they would support legislation to end racial profiling and to protect citizens from hate crimes. In fact, much of the language they used was almost identical.

Gore said, "Imagine what it -- what it is like for someone to be singled out unfairly, unjustly, and feel the unfair force of law simply because of race or ethnicity. Now, that runs counter to what the United States of America is all about at our core."

Bush followed, "I can't imagine what it would be like to be singled out because of race, and stopped and harassed. It's just flat wrong, and that's not what America is all about, and so we ought to do everything we can to end racial profiling."

Bush said he did not want to "federalize ... the local police forces," explaining that he wants the federal government to set guidelines and leave the states freedom to impose laws. Gore said he would do this as well, but move beyond to more federal regulation.

Gore questioned whether Bush had tried to create and enforce hate crime legislation in Texas, citing the case of James Byrd.

"The crime is hate," Bush retorted. "And they got the ultimate punishment. I'm not exactly sure you enhance the penalty any more than the death penalty."

On the topic of gay marriage -- one that has been in the news recently since Vermont passed a Civil Unions bill this year -- both candidates said they believe marriage in respecting all people, but they also agreed that marriage is a "sacred institution between a man and a woman." However, Gore said he supports "some kind of civic unions."

Both candidates advocated tighter gun control laws and keeping guns out of the grasp of children.

They clashed slightly on health care, questioning each other's past records. However, both said they wanted to improve coverage -- particularly for children.

In a turn from traditional domestic policy issues, Lehrer quoted a portion of Gore's book that read, "We must make the rescue of our environment the central organizing principle for civilization, and there must be a wrenching transformation to save the planet."

Gore stood by this statement, calling for the reduction of global warming and economy-stimulating forms of greenhouse gas emissions. Bush said he had reduced pollution in Texas and planned to continue doing the same if he were elected president -- but not before "we have the full accounting, full understanding of what's taking place."

Both candidates said education is a top priority. Bush equated a lack of education to discrimination, saying that all children should learn how to read and reiterating the point he made last week about consequences for schools that do not perform up to par. Gore again plugged his plan for attracting 100,000 new teachers to America's schools, among other points.

The next debate, which will be held Tuesday, Oct. 17 in St. Louis will be in the town hall format. Vavreck said the third exchange is intended to mimic a small New England town meeting.

"Everyone says that George W. Bush is such an affable guy, that he's so easy to be around. I think [the final debate] will come down to a contest of which of them seems more genuine. The format will take over the content," she said.

Vavreck also pointed out that Gore loves working crowds and having one-on-one dialogues with voters, so the town hall format should be a good one for him as well.

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