- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Vice President Al Gore, taking a cue from Ralph Nader, is recasting himself as a populist by raging against purported corporate profiteers in the drug and oil industries.
In Missouri on Monday, Mr. Gore attacked the pharmaceutical industry for "gouging" consumers as he campaigned for a prescription-drug benefit under Medicare that would cost $255 billion over 10 years.
"They are price gouging and you are paying the bill," Mr. Gore said as he courted votes among senior citizens. "There's no other industry in America that has profits nearly as high."
At the same appearance, Mr. Gore also blamed major oil companies for rising gas prices amid reports that Saudi Arabia will increase oil production.
"I want to call on the big oil companies to let that pass through in the form of price reductions to the people who are filling up at the gasoline-filling stations," Mr. Gore said.
Mr. Gore's new populist push comes as Mr. Nader, the Green Party nominee and longtime critic of corporate power, hovers at 6 percent in national polls.
Mr. Nader's rise indicates that Mr. Gore is struggling to win over traditional Democratic supporters, said Karen Hughes, a spokeswoman for presumptive Republican nominee George W. Bush.
"I think he has some serious problems within his base," Mrs. Hughes said.
"According to the polling, some members of what would be considered the Democratic Party are not happy with Al Gore as a candidate and are looking towards Ralph Nader as an alternative."
The Gore campaign says Bush aides are making mischief, trying to exaggerate the challenge from Mr. Nader.
"The Bush campaign is trying to distract away from the real choice in November, and that is between Gore and Bush," Gore spokesman Alejandro Cabrera said.
But the Nader threat poses a dilemma for Mr. Gore. The vice president must reach out to traditional Democratic voters without sounding too liberal so he peppers his spending proposals with centrist caveats.
In Philadelphia on June 27, Mr. Gore proposed $75 billion in tax breaks for environmental protection.
Mr. Gore added a disclaimer. He said he will prove America can clean up pollution and make power systems more efficient "all with no taxes, no new bureaucracies and no onerous regulations."
He added: "There will be no new bureaucracies, no new agencies or organizations because the era of old government is over."
Mr. Nader has framed his campaign as a crusade against corporate power. He accepted the Green Party's nomination in Denver on June 25, delivering a rant against against "ever-larger absentee corporations," "the worsening concentration of global corporate power," and "the unfortunate resurgence of big-business influence."
Mr. Nader does not find Mr. Gore's anti-corporate guise convincing. Mr. Nader ripped Mr. Gore as a "plastic person" and "a great environmental impostor" last week in an interview with reporters in Washington.
"He doesn't know who he is any more," Mr. Nader said.
Mr. Nader did not spare Mr. Bush. He said the Texas governor is "beyond satire" as a friend of corporate polluters. But Bush aides believe a strong Nader run would hurt Mr. Gore far more than Mr. Bush because his stances have more appeal to liberal voters.
Gore aides say the vice president's stands against big oil and pharmaceutical companies fit nicely into his campaign to aid "working families."
The push may pay off for the vice president. In a recent NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 39 percent of respondents said Mr. Gore is "compassionate enough to understand ordinary people," compared to 32 percent for Mr. Bush.
But the poll provided a stark warning about the perils of reinvention 26 percent said Mr. Gore is "too willing to say or do anything to get elected."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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