Candidates Exchange Blows on Education, Medicare

By Justin Torres | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - With the presidential race narrowing, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush exchanged body blows yesterday in some the sharpest campaign rhetoric to date.

Vice President Al Gore on Monday told Republican George W. Bush "to put up or shut up" and get specific about issues such as health care, Social Security and prescription drug coverage.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force Two after unveiling a $253 billion plan to provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare patients, Gore challenged Bush to detail his own plan.

"Do any of you know what his prescription drug plan is? No. And Dick Cheney said yesterday on several of the chat shows that they do not have one," said Gore. "I know that you don't know the specifics because he has not shared them. The American people have a right to know and a right to expect a serious adult discussion of substance."

Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer responded, "Instead of rising above the bitter tone of Washington, the vice president contributed to it. His words show he's the wrong man to bring people together."

The Bush team also fired off a fact sheet claiming that Gore's prescription plan will hurt more seniors than it will help.

Meanwhile, Bush attacked Gore on education, charging the vice president with presiding over "a national tragedy" in U.S. schools.

"Seven years in office and my opponent presides over a national tragedy,'' Bush said Monday in Austin, TX, at the unveiling of a grassroots coalition of teachers and administrators called Educators for Bush. "Seventy percent of fourth graders in our highest poverty schools still cannot read and he's offered little to do anything about it."

Bush cited a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study released last week that showed an increasing gap between minority and non-minority students, calling it "an indictment of the status quo and of the last seven years of neglect for our public schools."

Bush will begin a three-day, five-state "education road trip" on Tuesday in Maine and New Hampshire.

Monday's exchange was one of the sharpest yet in a race that has narrowed considerably in the past several days.

A CNN/USA Today poll of 664 likely voters, released Monday, had Bush up one percentage point, 46 percent to 45 percent. That spread is within the margin of error of four points.