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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gore Judged Winner in VP Face-Off

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- Spitting out facts and figures like two computers, Vice President Al Gore and Republican Jack Kemp sparred Wednesday over race, abortion, foreign affairs, economic theory and morals in the only vice presidential debate of the 1996 campaign.


Clubbing each other -- and a national television audience -- over the head with bundles of statistics, Gore and Kemp produced an intellectually demanding but often dry confrontation, packed with details but spiced with only the occasional flashes of rhetorical excitement.


The encounter was closely watched because the two men are seen as possible presidential nominees for the year 2000. In any case, the debate seemed unlikely to affect the 1996 race, in which President Bill Clinton leads Republican Bob Dole by a comfortable margin.


"Gore sounded very much in control but highly programmed," said Steven Wayne, a political scientist from Georgetown University. "Kemp obviously had a philosophy but he sometimes came off a little wacky," he said, giving the edge in the debate to Gore.


"Instant" opinion polls after the debate declared Gore the winner. ABC television said 50 percent of those surveyed picked the vice president, 27 percent chose Kemp and 21 percent called it a tie. CNN said its poll showed Gore the winner 57 to 28 percent. Both polls had a margin error of five percentage points.


After promising a civilized, respectful debate, Kemp went to the offensive, accusing Clinton and Gore of trying to impose a quasi-socialist, anti-capitalist economic system on the nation. "Bill Clinton, the president, and Al Gore suggest that they'll give us a tax cut, but only if we do exactly what they want us to do," he said. "That isn't America. That's social engineering."


But Gore shot back with his own statistics, arguing that the Clinton administration had created 10 million new jobs while protecting social programs and the environment.


"As for these harsh words, I don't take them personally. He [Kemp] said much worse about Bob Dole when he said Bob Dole never met a tax that he didn't hike," Gore said. The vice president also showed quick wits when Kemp finished one lengthy, answer in which he tried to explain how lower taxes could promote more jobs for poor people, with a rhetorical flourish. "He'll call that trickle-down. I call it Niagara Falls," Kemp declared.


Gore: "The problem with this version of Niagara Falls is that Senator Dole and Mr. Kemp would put the American economy in a barrel and send it over the falls."


The two men also clashed over abortion with Kemp saying three of his grandchildren were adopted and he thanked God every night they were given the opportunity to be born. But Gore said Dole and Kemp wanted to take away a woman's right to have an abortion.


"We will never allow a woman's right to choose to be taken away," he said.