The 'least wanted' list of questions pose a TV minefield for candidates

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The Independent US

As Al Gore and George W Bush stood waiting at their lecterns for the first questions last night, there were several topics they would have given a great deal to keep off the agenda. At the top of Mr Gore's "least wanted" list would have been Bill Clinton. The President might not have been far from the top of Mr Bush's list either, for different reasons.

As Al Gore and George W Bush stood waiting at their lecterns for the first questions last night, there were several topics they would have given a great deal to keep off the agenda. At the top of Mr Gore's "least wanted" list would have been Bill Clinton. The President might not have been far from the top of Mr Bush's list either, for different reasons.

Mr Gore's rise in the polls since the Democratic convention has been fostered by Mr Clinton's virtual disappearance from the political spotlight except as a set-piece President - to announce splendid economic figures, meet visiting leaders, and cajole Congress to pass next year's budget. His name conjures up his commanding presence and diminishes his Vice-President by comparison.

But any mention of Mr Clinton would also remind voters of certain facets of Mr Gore that inspire misgivings: his public and perhaps overly effusive endorsement of Mr Clinton during impeachment, and his questionable fund-raising activities in the 1996 election.

For Mr Gore, the dilemma is to associate himself with the peace and economic prosperity of the Clinton presidency, while separating himself from Mr Clinton's personal flaws.

Mr Bush has campaigned on a barely veiled allusion to Mr Clinton in his pledge to "restore honour and dignity" to the White House. But specific mention would remind voters of what was seen as the dogmatic and self-righteous meanness of the Congressional Republicans who pursued impeachment. That lost Republicans votes two years ago and could again.

High on Mr Bush's least wanted list would be a specific "yes-no" question about his stance on abortion. Mr Bush has gone to great lengths to stress his personal opposition to abortion, while committing himself only to ban a procedure known as "partial birth abortion" mainly used in very late terminations. The abortion pill, just approved for prescribing in the US, threatens to revive this sensitive topic in time for the election.

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