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Bush says Gore has 'credibility problem'

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has sharply attacked Vice President Al Gore, challenging his credibility and calling him an "obstacle to reform," the Washington Post reported Thursday.

During a 45-minute interview with the Post, the Texas governor said he hoped to "lift the spirit" of the country between now and November and touched on education and other issues he intends to run on this fall.But his remarks about Gore were the latest sign that the presidential campaign will be both negative and personal, the Post reported.

Bush said the vice president has "a major credibility problem," which goes beyond the issue of campaign finance reform that will be a central focus of the general election debate, and vowed to "keep the pressure on."

Bush repeatedly said he does not believe or trust Gore, adding that he believed voters want a president who will "put the issues ahead of partisanship."

Such a bipartisan approach, he added, "stands in stark contrast to my opponent, who I view as an obstacle to reform, as somebody who is so partisan that it's going to be impossible to get major objectives."

Asked directly if Gore had the honesty and integrity to serve as president, Bush told the Post, "That's what I'd like to know and that's what America would like to know."

Bush, who was won enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination this summer, said he would concentrate his travel on the key battleground states and sought to put to rest concerns among Republicans that he, like the two previous Republican nominees, would not compete energetically in California.

"I think I'll win California," he said. Acknowledging that "it's a tough state," he added, "I'm going to compete vigorously in California."

Bush said he intended to make Social Security reform a centerpiece of the fall debate and added that Gore was wrong to suggest that major changes are not needed to save the system. "It's a fundamental issue and I think people want something done on Social Security," he said.

The Texas governor brusquely rejected the vice president's proposal for the nominees to bar their national party committees from using six-figure "soft money" donations to finance political advertising campaigns, accusing the vice president of being hypocritical.

"It is hard to think this guy is any kind of campaign reformer," Bush said. "I don't believe that."

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane rejected Bush's charge that Gore was an obstacle to reform and accused Bush of drafting a tax cut plan that "in the words of John McCain, does not leave a penny for Social Security or a penny for Medicare."