Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) took swipes at three of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday while declaring that "deficit reduction cannot be the single centerpiece of the Democratic agenda for the country's future."

"Americans have many concerns, only one of which is balancing the federal budget," Gore said in what was billed as a major economic speech at the University of New Hampshire.

Without naming names, Gore jabbed Sen. Simon, who he said was attempting to "imitate Reagan -- promise the moon in new spending and simultaneously promise a balanced budget in three years."

In an apparent reference to the trade proposals of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), he said, "Protectionism, like Reaganomics, is a losing battle." Gore also rejected former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt's call for a national sales tax, calling it "regressive" and "essentially a Republican idea."

Gore's own plan was short on specific cost and savings numbers and he said he intends to keep it that way. "I will not be drawn into an unrealistic numbers game," he said.

But Gore promised to "rebuild a consensus behind fiscal responsibility," cut waste, improve tax enforcement and increase taxes only as a last resort, targeting them on "those who can afford it."