(Des Moines, IA) Vice President Al Gore Saturday blasted competitor Bill Bradley for mulling an independent bid for the presidency in 1996, supporting “Reaganomics” and leaving the U.S. Senate shortly after Republicans took control of Congress.

“I think the second-most important, defining moment for democrats in the last 20 years has been what our reaction was when Newt Gingrich took over the Congress and tried to solidify the ‘Reaganomics’ approach, and each of us was called upon to either fight against it with everything we had or not, and he did not,” Gore said in response to a reporter’s question at a Saturday afternoon news conference in Des Moines.

The race between Gore and Bradley for the democratic party’s next presidential nomination has tightened in recent weeks, with public opinion polls showing the two running neck-in-neck in states like New Hampshire and New York.

Gore was asked “what kind of democrat” would vote for former President Ronald Reagan’s budget and leave the Senate after the so-called Gingrich revolution which saw Republicans wrest control of the U.S. House from democrats who had held the debate agenda for four decades.

“I see some hungry quotation marks, eager to be filled with a pungent quotation” Gore joked with the throng of reporters. “I don’t know. Maybe the kind that would announce he was considering running as an Independent against President Clinton.”

Bradley has in the past called Gore a creature of the Washington establishment who is “timid” when it comes to decisions. Gore responded to the barb.

“I didn’t walk away from the fight when Newt Gingrich took over Congress. I didn’t walk away from the fight when ‘Reaganomics’ was put up for a vote on the floor (of the United States Senate). I didn’t walk away from the fight when farmers needed…loan deficiency payments and conservation programs, so I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder,” Gore said.

Gore has called for frequent debates with Bradley over a wide variety of issues In the news conference with reporters on Saturday, Gore heightened the stakes.

“Last week I said I’d like to debate every two weeks, but I’ve changed that. I’d like to debate every week….and why not use this campaign as a way to elevate the election process to make it worthy of our democracy.

“With the Republican front-runner just blowing the caps off the money limits and jettisoning the reforms that were enacted after Watergate, democrats would be wise to re-write the history books in terms of grassroots participation and one of the problems with participation in the past has been people are turned off by the way campaigns have been run. And the best the way to elevate campaigns is to have debates and to focus on what’s really significant and important,” Gore told reporters.

Gore began his Saturday at a pancake breakfast for supporters in Fort Dodge, then met with about 300 supporters in Ames. On Saturday evening, he was the headliner — alongside Bradley — at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual fall fund-raiser. Bradley staged a separate banquet in downtown Des Moines for his supporters who could not get a ticket for the party event.