- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000

President Clinton continues to cast a long shadow over Vice President Al Gore, who seems unable to break free of his well-meaning but domineering boss in the race for the White House.

With Mr. Gore road-testing a kinder, gentler campaign style that steers clear of direct attacks on George W. Bush, the president is left as the de facto Democratic candidate whose positions are routinely contrasted against those of the Texas governor.

Yesterday's news for example, was dominated by Mr. Clinton's announcement that he would share any missile-defense technology the United States might develop.

But Mr. Bush was the topic of the first question posed to Mr. Clinton by the international press corps as he stood outside a picturesque palace in Lisbon with the Portuguese prime minister and with the president of the European Commission.

The president was asked if his proposed system would "protect Europe and our NATO allies, as Governor Bush has suggested."

Rather than mention Mr. Bush by name, the president emphasized his own position, which is that "it would be unethical" not to share missile-defense technology.

Eager to point out that Mr. Gore agreed with him, the president added, "that is the position of everyone in this administration."

Two hours later, in a briefing to American reporters in Lisbon, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart brought up Mr. Bush's stance on missile defense, pointing out that the Texas governor advocates a system much more ambitious than the one under consideration by Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Lockhart then became the most prominent member of the administration to advance the Gore campaign's "attack of the day."

Yesterday's attack amounted to a second round of criticism of Mr. Bush for declining the offer of a national security briefing from Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

Without prompting, the president's spokesman repeatedly questioned the Texas governor's refusal to meet with Mr. Cohen, calling it both "odd" and "surprising."

The refrain was echoed by Gore aides back in the United States, although the vice president himself remained silent on the topic.

During both exchanges with reporters in Lisbon, Mr. Gore's name never came up.

"This is Bush against Clinton," said Allan J. Lichtman, chairman of the history department at American University. "Clearly, no matter what Gore does, he is the legacy of the Clinton administration. He rises or falls with the successes and failures of that administration. So it really is the Clinton administration versus the challenger."

Stephen Hess, senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution, said Mr. Gore has finally wised up and grabbed hold of the president's coattails.

"For better or worse, they're joined at the hip," Mr. Hess said. "And the irony in this case is that it took the Gore people a long time to find out that it's for the better.

"Al Gore really has a tin ear, politically, because this should have been long obvious to him. But it's only when he declined in the polls and started getting some bad press that this truth became self-evident to him.

"If Clinton wants to be the one to play hardball and leave it to Al Gore to play good cop, why not?" said Mr. Hess. "When you've got somebody who's a pretty powerful runner who comes along, grab onto him and let him pull you."

But the president appears ambivalent about being Mr. Gore's hatchet man.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, he savaged Mr. Bush on a whole range of issues. But during a Rose Garden appearance a few days later, he passed up the opportunity to attack the Texas governor, insisting he didn't want to talk about the campaign.

Similarly, the vice president has vacillated between embracing his boss and keeping his distance. While eager to cash in on the president's proven prowess as a fund-raiser, Mr. Gore is eager to be seen as his own man.

To that end, he has broken with the Clinton administration on such issues as the Elian Gonzalez case. But more often, his positions remain so close to those of the president that Mr. Gore often finds himself upstaged by his senior political partner.

On Tuesday, for example, in what aides had billed "a major environmental announcement," Mr. Gore vowed to ban logging and road building on millions of acres of forest.

But the vice president's thunder was largely stolen by Mr. Clinton, who announced just three weeks earlier an almost identical plan, albeit slightly smaller.

Mr. Lichtman said the vice president will remain overshadowed by his boss until the Democratic convention late this summer. But even then, Mr. Clinton will continue to raise money and campaign for his understudy and will likely find it difficult to shuffle off center stage.

"Clinton can't; he's incapable of it," Mr. Lichtman exclaimed with a laugh. "Even if that was strategically what was called for, he constitutionally cannot do it."

Therefore, Mr. Gore might as well relax and enjoy the ride, according to Mr. Hess.

"Vice presidents in this condition, as far back as Richard Nixon in 1960, have always had this thing about wanting to do it on their own," he said. "It's psychological. It's almost like a relationship between father and son. They've got to prove themselves and their own worth.

"I was an Eisenhower speech writer at the time in 1960 and it's always thought that Eisenhower was cool on Nixon. But the truth of the matter is that Eisenhower was rarin' to go. He wanted to get out and campaign for Nixon and Nixon was holding him back.

"It was very much the sense that I've got to show that I'm different, that I'm special, that I have my own characteristics and I'm not just being dragged in by the old man," Mr. Hess added. "And I sense that there has been a good deal of that in this campaign.

"Anytime a vice president is running to succeed the president whether it's Hubert Humphrey in 1968 or Gore now there's that need to say: 'Thanks, dad. But I can do it on my own.' "

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