Nashua, NH (CNSNews.com) -Democratic presidential nomination candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley squared off Friday night over their competing health care plans in a nationally televised debate-town meeting at Daniel Webster College. Gore accused the former New Jersey Senator of killing Medicare, but Bradley insisted Gore's proposal would leave many middle-class Americans without coverage, including part-time workers, employees laid off as a result of corporate downsizing, and "the 40 percent of the people who live in poverty and who don't have health insurance."
"Just who would you leave out," Bradley asked an apparently annoyed Gore, who responded sharply, "I won't leave anybody out."
Gore said he, like Bradley, also favors universal health care, but insisted his plan would be more fiscally responsible since it would be done "step by step," starting with children.
Gore also faulted the cost of his rival's plan, contending it would leave little if any money to address Medicare and other issues.
This time Bradley was ready, telling Gore, "I defended Medicare for 18 years. It was through my efforts that we prevented premiums from going up on a number of occasions."
As he has frequently done, Gore again accused Bradley of "canceling Medicaid," a national health care program for the poor.
Bradley again shot back, defending his plan, which calls for federal subsidies that would allow the poor to buy health insurance.
The two also tangled briefly on the subject of education, with Gore insisting Bradley supported vouchers and has failed to submit a plan to address the many problems facing the nation's public schools. "Every single time vouchers came up in the Senate, for 18 years, you voted for them," Gore said.
Acknowledging his support, as a senator, for voucher experiments, Bradley responded, "I don't believe vouchers are the solution," and added, "I have never supported, even in experimental programs, any voucher plan that took money from public schools."
The two Democrats also had some differences over gun control.
"I am the only candidate in the race who has called for mandatory licensing and registration of all handguns," Bradley said. He also insisted the entertainment industry has a role to play in curbing violence and urged Hollywood to do more than "go with what's going to sell."
For his part, Gore reiterated his support for gun control measures and urged Hollywood to "show less violence and explicit sexuality, especially when young people are watching."
As for drug use, both men agreed past use of marijuana should not be a disqualifying factor in seeking elective office, including running for the presidency. Both also agreed it is up to individual candidates to decide how much scrutiny to permit of their personal lives.
"I've admitted I've smoked marijuana, just as the vice president has," Bradley said.
Gore insisted he has "been open about this," and then said it is up to Texas Gov. George W. Bush to "decide for himself how to respond," to questions concerning possible drug use.