Al Gore reminded voters Monday in pivotal Great Lakes states that economic good times returned to America under Democratic leadership and said changing course could "drive our economy into the ditch."
Republican George W. Bush countered that a big-spending Gore would squander the nation's economic riches but said the election rests on bigger questions: "Can we bring America together? Can we move beyond petty arguments to get real results for the American people?"
He said Gore could not, but he would. In a refrain that raised cheers from GOP faithful starved for victory after eight years out of power, the Texas Republican declared, "It won't be long now" until he wins the White House and brings "a new attitude and atmosphere to Washington."
Thus both Bush and Gore began the final full week of their nip-and-tuck campaign, fighting on Democratic turf and honing their close-the-sale messages.
Gore decided last weekend to make an issue out of Bush's relative lack of experience. Campaign strategists said Monday night they are seriously considering driving home the point with an ad later this week that suggests Bush is not up to the job. A second potential ad, also being tested with focus groups, stresses Gore's record.
"He's not ready to be president," Democratic running mate Joe Lieberman said of Bush while introducing Gore in Wisconsin. "Some day maybe, but not now."
Shrugging off the jibe, Bush replied: "I never expected to get his vote anyway."
Arizona Sen. John McCain, campaigning with his former Republican rival in California, called the Democratic strategy a "desperation tactic."
Gore campaigned in Michigan and Wisconsin while Bush visited New Mexico and California all states won by Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
Gore plans to return to his home state of Tennessee on Friday night and Saturday, further evidence that Bush has put him on the defensive in the push to 270 state electoral votes the number required for victory.
With the Texas governor and his deep-pockets GOP allies stretching Gore thin, the Democratic vice president has reduced by more than two thirds his ad campaign in the battleground state of Ohio all but conceding those 21 electoral votes.
He is shifting the money to Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where Bush has gained ground and Gore can't afford to lose. The vice president, aides said, also will increase his effort in Florida, spending about $2 million for ads in the state run by Bush's brother Jeb.
Florida is considered vital to Bush, though nervous GOP strategists now say he could win the presidency without the state's 25 electoral votes by snagging Pennsylvania (23 votes) or California (54 votes) from Gore's column. Polls show the Pennsylvania race tied or Gore ahead, and give the vice president a lead of 5-to-10 percentage points in California.
Campaigning in Burbank, Calif., Bush said the nation's largest state is full of "independent thinkers" who wanted a president from outside Washington. At his direction, state Republicans on Monday expanded Bush's $6 million TV ad campaign to San Francisco, compared to Gore who is spending nothing on television in the nation's biggest state.
National surveys put Bush ahead or tied with Gore in the popular vote, and the race for electoral votes is just as tight. Neither side can afford to let an attack go unanswered.
With polls suggesting that Gore has made inroads in Florida, Pennsylvania other states by criticizing Bush's Social Security plans, the Texas governor promised not to cut benefits as president.
"No changes, no how, no way," he said, reminding Democrats of his father's no-new-taxes pledge.
Gore's campaign denied reports that he told Arab-Americans in a private meeting Sunday that he, unlike Bush, opposes moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Jewish groups, important in states like Florida, were sure to object so Gore aides rushed to clarify: The vice president, they said, told the group he has not supported moving the embassy at this time, but did not rule it out in the future.
Bush's campaign accused Gore of "blatant pandering."