- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2000

LOS ANGELES Vice President Al Gore arrived here Wednesday for the Democratic National Convention under enormous pressure to establish his identity with a speech that aides said he wrote like his environmental book, "Earth in the Balance."
For months, Gore supporters have explained away the vice president's sagging poll numbers by insisting he will turn around his campaign by stepping out of President Clinton's shadow with a soaring nomination acceptance speech Thursday night.
Expectations are extraordinarily high for the vice president, especially since Mr. Clinton symbolically ceded him leadership of the Democratic Party on Tuesday.
"It's an important speech and a significant speech, because as of Wednesday, he assumed the mantle of the party," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane told The Washington Times.
"He has stepped out; the torch has been handed; the scepter is in his hand; the football has been handed off to him. And so, clearly, the eyes of the country and the national media will be on him with this speech."
Gore adviser Carter Eskew agreed.
"He's given big speeches before in his life," Mr. Eskew said. "But this is really an opportunity for him now to be the main guy and to stand on that stage not in support of someone else."
The vice president has been toiling over his speech for weeks, approaching the writing the same way he approached "Earth in the Balance," his 1992 book that calls for the abolition of the internal combustion engine.
"When he did 'Earth in the Balance,' he had a sense of a unifying vision," Mr. Lehane said. "He started off with a whole bunch of ideas and then he really brought it into focus and honed it. And I think he has approached this speech in a very similar way."
Mr. Gore said he started thinking about what he would say three months ago, "getting an easel and posterboard and writing out the ideas and subjects that I wanted to discuss."
"I've been writing the whole time," the vice president said. "I've been rewriting and editing and tweaking."
Mr. Gore seemed unconcerned about high expectations for the speech.
"I feel very relaxed about it," he told reporters with a laugh as he flew to Los Angeles aboard Air Force Two. "Maybe I shouldn't. I'm more nervous about [daughters] Karenna's speech and Kristin's speech than I am about mine."
Aside from fretting about his daughters, Mr. Gore acknowledged he has high hopes for his own speech, which will be a mix of autobiography and policy positions.
"It's not what I get out of the speech it's what the American people get out of it," he said. "I'll tell them why I feel as strongly as I do about the choices we have to make."
For days, the Gore campaign has been trying to characterize the vice president as a bold risk taker by filling his speech with specific policy proposals, not personal fluff.
"He recognizes that there's always a risk in focusing on specifics, particularly in this day and age, when you have prepackaged campaigns that are antiseptic by nature, that are focused more on imagery than issues and more on sound bites than on substance," Mr. Lehane said.
Aides emphasized that unlike most of Mr. Gore's major speeches, he wrote most of Thursday night's speech himself. Still, they acknowledged he had help from his top speech writer, Eli Attie, and strategists Bob Shrum and Mr. Eskew.
Mr. Eskew said Wednesday his boss has "written many of the phrases" in the speech.
Gore loyalists bragged that the vice president's speech will be far superior to Texas Gov. George W. Bush's acceptance speech at the Republican convention.
"Bush's speech was extremely short on specifics and short on substance and really lacking any overarching vision of where he wants to take America beyond taking us back to the '80s and '90s," Mr. Lehane said. "Al Gore represents the new guard."
Mr. Gore suggested his speech will contain enough specifics to satisfy even policy wonks. He said viewers will come away with "a clear idea of exactly what I'm proposing to do.
"And they'll also know how the ideas and proposals I'm making are rooted in the experiences that I've had in fighting for people over the last 24 years," he added. "I'll give a few specific examples to try and draw the connection."
A few minutes after Mr. Gore's chat with reporters, Air Force Two touched down at the Burbank Airport near Los Angeles. Hundreds of well-wishers who were waiting in a sweltering hangar broke into cheers as the distinctive, blue-and-white plane slowly rolled up and stopped just a few steps outside the hangar doors.
Mr. Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and his wife, Hadassah, ascended the stairs and entered the plane. A few minutes later, the Liebermans reappeared with Mr. Gore and his wife, Tipper, in tow.
Mrs. Gore introduced Mr. Lieberman as "a man who has stood for conviction." Mr. Lieberman returned the compliment as soon as he stepped to the microphone.
"I've been waiting for a week to say this line and I can't control myself anymore," Mr. Lieberman enthused. "In this election, will you help me win this one for the Tipper?"
Mr. Lieberman, whose support of school vouchers and reservations about affirmative action has alienated some blacks in the Democratic Party, sought to paper over those differences Wednesday.
"It is possible that I'm a bit biased, but I think this is the most excited and united Democratic convention that we have ever had," he said.
Seeking to infuse Mr. Gore with his own moralism, Mr. Lieberman turned to his new boss and delivered a sort of political benediction.
"Your courage, your character, your experience, your principles, your sense of purpose will make you the next great president of the United States," he said.
When Mr. Gore took the stage, he providing a minipreview of his speech by calling for such things as broader federal health care mandates and gun controls. He is also expected to talk about saving Social Security and providing a prescription drug benefit.
Viewers who watch Thursday night's speech expecting to be bowled over by previously unvetted policy proposals will likely come away disappointed, according to Mr. Eskew.
"I can't think of something that would be new in there," he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide