KEOKUK, Iowa - Vice President Al Gore said Monday that his surge in polls following the Democratic convention is evidence that voters want a campaign based on issues rather than images.
''I think the more people focus on the real choices we have to make, the more they see the real contrast in this race,'' Gore said on NBC's ''Today.''
He made similar remarks on ABC's ''Good Morning America'' and CBS' ''The Early Show'' as new polls suggested the race between Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush has tightened considerably since last week's convention. Several voter surveys indicated the race is in a dead heat even though 10 days ago Bush had led by 10 points or more.
''I'm tempted to change my opinion of the polls but I haven't. I still believe polls don't matter very much,'' Gore said on CBS.
Gore and running mate Joseph Lieberman were wrapping up a 400-mile boat trip down the Mississippi River by advocating targeted tax cuts that would help the middle class pay for child care, elder care and college tuition. By contrast, Bush wants an across-the-board tax reduction whose chief beneficiaries would be the upper-income people who bear most of the income tax burden.
''It's fine to give tax relief (to the rich), but not if it comes at the expense of everyone else, puts our economy back into deficit and raises interest payments and house and car payments for the entire rest of the country,'' Gore said on ABC.
''I believe that with this surplus we should give tax cuts to the middle class, to the people who are paying most of the taxes, who are having the hardest time making ends meet,'' he told a crowd of about 1,500 who came out to hear the Democratic ticket in Keokuk Sunday night.
Bush wants a tax cut of about $1 trillion over 10 years by reducing income tax rates. He also would double the $500 tax credit for each child and increase other deductions.
Gore is offering a $500 billion cut over 10 years, but the money would go toward write-offs for child care, after-school programs and elder care, and he would make college tuition tax deductible.
Speaking to the rally Sunday night, Lieberman said Bush would squander the budget surplus on a tax cut that ''goes to the wealthy.'' The Gore campaign contends that Bush's plan would actually cost $1.6 trillion with interest.
But Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett has said that those needing tax relief most, those with the lowest incomes, would see the largest reductions in their taxes under the Bush plan. He cited as an example a family of four making $35,000, which would get a 100 percent tax cut, about $1,500, under Bush's plan.
According to the Gore campaign, most people would only see a decrease of $227 a year under the Bush plan, while the top 1 percent, those making more than $319,000, would get a tax cut of $46,000.
''I will never go along with a big tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of working families that wrecks our economy in the process,'' the vice president said Sunday.
Gore, taking on the role of consumer advocate, also promised to help families better afford to see their doctors' regularly, buy prescription drugs and pay their hospital bills. He said health maintenance organizations and insurance companies should not be allowed to interfere with patient care.
''Then some bean counter behind a computer terminal who doesn't have a license to practice medicine and surely does not have a right to play God overrules the doctor because the HMO or the insurance company doesn't want to shell out the money,'' he said in Moline, Ill.
While Lieberman called opponents Bush and running mate Dick Cheney ''decent and likable men,'' he accused Bush of doing little to help 1.4 million children in Texas who have no health care, and he said the state ranks next to last in the country for women with health care.
''Governor Bush likes to say, 'Don't mess with Texas,' but I've got to tell you, from I've heard from many of my friends down there, when it comes to health care, it's a mess in Texas,'' said the Connecticut senator.
Gore promised a patients' bill of right that would assure critical protections for the sick and ensure that doctors can offer a range of medical options, not just inexpensive ones.
Gore was planning to push his tax plan in a discussion with middle- class families Monday aboard the Mark Twain riverboat and at stops later in the day in Quincy, Ill., and Hannibal, Mo., Twain's boyhood home, is the last stop on the four-day post-convention swing.