(CNSNews.com) - The political camps of presidential hopefuls George W Bush and Al Gore swapped personal attacks Sunday over whether Gore shades the truth and whether Bush has the smarts to make a good president.
"This nonsense is not what this campaign should be about,"' Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman said of a rising Republican assault on Gore's credibility.
As Bush and Gore prepare for Wednesday's second presidential debate, their camps hit the airwaves Sunday and traded accusations and unleashed some of the sharpest personal attacks yet in a dead heat presidential race.
"The vice president has consistently and repeatedly made up things, exaggerated, embellished facts," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told Fox News Sunday.
Meanwhile, Gore deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani told CNN's Late Edition that Bush "was incoherent, he was babbling" in explaining his own tax-cut proposal at a Saturday campaign stop in Florida.
Bush activists point to a series of remarks they say reinforce a history of embellishment that included Gore's comments last week about a 1998 disaster relief trip to Texas and a 15-year-old Florida student Gore claimed had to stand in class. Both accounts have been challenged and found to be inaccurate.
Democrats, on the other hand, tried to depict Bush as an intellectual lightweight unable to clearly explain his own proposals and a man given to desperate attacks on Gore.
"What you have ... is a Republican campaign that is out of gas and out of ideas," Gore adviser Paul Begala told NBC's Meet the Press.
"Your candidate is a serial exaggerator," Bush chief strategist Carl Rove shot back. "This is a man who has difficulty telling the truth ... "
Democrats defended Gore's misstatements. "People make mistakes," Lieberman told CNN.
Later, at a Washington brunch that raised $400,000 for the Democratic National Committee, Lieberman said the election "is about a very important purpose, and it ought not to be denigrated into trying to tear down somebody's honor and credibility."
Tad Devine, a senior Gore strategist, said the issue of Gore's misstatements had been over-blown by Republicans.
"Some people are going to make misstatements in the course of the campaign," Devine said on Fox. "What the campaign is about, what it should be about, are real issues, and that's what Al Gore is talking about."
Bush is home at his central Texas ranch preparing for Wednesday's second presidential debate in Winston-Salem, NC, while Gore will be in Sarasota, FL, for his own debate preparations.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told wire service reporters Sunday that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who challenged Bush in the primaries, will campaign with Bush as the race heads into the home stretch.
McCain's presence could be important for Bush as he reaches out for Democrats and Independents in battleground states, voters among whom McCain remains highly popular.