Texas Gov. George W. Bush appears to have pulled even with John McCain in the Republican race, according to a new poll, which showed Bill Bradley chipping away at Vice President Gore's lead in the Democratic contest as time ticked down and tempers frayed before Tuesday's crucial New Hampshire presidential primaries.
In developments today, Bradley said he had stepped up his criticism of Gore's "misrepresentations" on campaign fund-raising and abortion because it was "time to tell the people what was the truth."
Gore accuses his rival of stooping to "personal vilification."
In the GOP race, Bush and conservative activist Gary Bauer tried a different sort of contest -- pancake flipping. Bauer, backing up to catch his pancake, fell off the low stage. He was unhurt and came up laughing.
Citing polls that show him in a tight race with Bush in New Hampshire, McCain said today he is "confident of victory" Tuesday and feels good about the upcoming South Carolina primary, too.
A Reuters poll released Sunday showed McCain, a senator from Arizona, with 38 percent to 36 percent for Bush, a statistical tie because of the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. A CNN/Gallup poll Sunday had McCain with 38 to 34 percent for Bush.
The Reuters poll found Gore with a lead of 7 percentage points over Bradley, a former senator from New Jersey and onetime professional basketball star. Only two days ago, Gore led by 11 points among Democrats. The CNN/Gallup poll found the two in a statistical tie, with 48 percent for Gore to 47 percent for Bradley.
The Republican contest seemed like a gentlemanly sparring match compared with the Gore-Bradley brawl. Bradley kept up his attack on Gore's honesty, while the vice president blasted his opponent for running a "manipulative, negative, politics-as-usual campaign."
"He cannot defend his own proposals, so he has committed foul after foul, and I believe on Tuesday . . . the voters of New Hampshire are going to blow the whistle on those fouls," Gore told 2,000 cheering supporters in Somersfield.
Bradley questioned Gore's role in the fund-raising scandal that dogged the Democrats after the 1996 presidential election.
Brandishing an article from the new issue of Fortune magazine that examines Gore's role in the scandal, Bradley said Gore needed to level with voters.
"Unless that explanation is forthcoming, then the public will reject a candidacy that fails to come to terms with this circumstance in our Democratic Party in 1996," Bradley said.
The Justice Department investigated whether Gore violated campaign finance laws purportedly by raising party funds from his vice presidential office and taking part in a fund-raising event in a Buddhist temple. Ultimately, it found that there were no grounds to continue with the probe.
Among Republicans, McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said he was the only candidate fully prepared to be president.
"There is only one man that is fully prepared. These are all good people that are running, but I believe I'm the person who can lead the country in this new millennium," he said.
McCain also told supporters that he was the only Republican who would be able to challenge Gore on the fund-raising scandal because Bush had refused to take a stand against the current system that the senator said encourages corruption.
"I can beat Al Gore like a drum. Gov. Bush will just stand there," he said.
But Bush said the fact that he had been endorsed by 40 U.S. senators who worked every day with McCain showed that he was the best man to unite the Republican Party. He said McCain had shown himself to be a clone of President Bill Clinton by putting forward a timid tax-cut plan.
Three other Republicans in the race -- publisher Steve Forbes, talk radio host Alan Keyes and Bauer -- were relegated to virtual footnotes in the heat of the Bush-McCain battle.