- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Vice President Al Gore is proceeding with caution, even as he campaigns at a torrid pace with what polls say is a growing lead.

With seven weeks until the Nov. 7 election, Mr. Gore hopes to maintain a disciplined, mistake-free campaign amplifying his signature proposals but breaking little new ground.

Mr. Gore appears happy to watch the days slip from the calendar even if he does not make national news.

"We've got seven weeks and six days left, give or take a few hours in the western time zone," Mr. Gore said Wednesday night, during a $2 million Democratic fund-raiser in Boston.

Last week, Mr. Gore sprinted from Washington, D.C., to Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. The vice president stopped at schools, rallies and fund-raisers in a dozen cities, promoting his education agenda and his pledge to fight for "the people, not the powerful."

But the vice president, who has not held a news conference since July 17, carefully avoided traveling reporters amid new questions about the Clinton-Gore campaign's fund raising during the 1996 campaign.

Newspapers across the country reported Thursday that in 1995, Mr. Gore and the chairman of the Democratic National Committee sought a $100,000 donation from a wealthy Texas lawyer after promising President Clinton would veto a bill limiting damage awards in product-liability cases.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane dismissed reporters' questions about when the vice president would meet the press.

"It's a quick and nimble campaign, capable of doing something on a moment's notice," Mr. Lehane said during a stop at a middle school in New Hampshire. "It could happen at any moment."

Texas Gov. George W. Bush is using the reports of questionable Gore fund-raising practices to raise new questions about Mr. Gore's character.

Mr. Gore "is a good family man, no question about that, but he has been part of an administration that's violated financing laws," the Texas governor told CNN on Saturday.

Mr. Gore is determined to avoid distractions, addressing groups of loyal supporters and repeating his pledge to fight for "working families."

In Washington on Saturday night, Mr. Gore addressed the 30th anniversary dinner for the Congressional Black Caucus. Today in Las Vegas he will speak to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

On Thursday night, Mr. Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, rode a ferry boat into Boston harbor as news broke that someone sent a package of Mr. Bush's debate preparation materials to former Rep. Tom Downey, a close friend of Mr. Gore.

"We'll have a chance to talk later," Mr. Gore told inquiring reporters.

But Mr. Gore never commented on the incident. Mr. Lehane told reporters that Mr. Downey's lawyer turned the package over to the FBI and Mr. Downey had recused himself from the Gore campaign's debate preparations.

Mr. Gore wrapped his education pitch around star-studded fund-raisers in Camden, N.J., Boston and New York that raised $9 million for the Democratic National Committee.

In Belleville, Ill., last week, Mr. Gore had criticized Hollywood for marketing violent video games and movies to children. He called for an immediate "cease-fire" and threatened federal intervention if Hollywood did not change its marketing practices within six months.

Dan Bartlett, a spokesman for Mr. Bush, suggested the vice president is campaigning at a brisk pace to disguise "a very vigorous and loaded fund-raising schedule with the Hollywood elite."

Mr. Gore's "actions are speaking much louder than his words," said Mr. Bartlett.

Mr. Gore is trying to focus on his policy agenda, even as Mr. Bush takes the offensive. The vice president's aides believe Mr. Gore gained in recent weeks every time Mr. Bush got distracted about the debate over debates, an amplified curse about a New York Times reporter or about a Republican National Committee ad that flashed "RATS" on the screen.

Mr. Gore "is going to continue to talk about ways he can help America's families," Mr. Lehane said. "We'll let George Bush continue to focus on the past."

Mr. Gore now leads in the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Illinois, according to polls released last week. Gore aides trace the improvement in Mr. Gore's polling to his choice of Mr. Lieberman as his running mate and his emergence from President Clinton's shadow at the Democratic National Convention.

Mr. Bartlett, the Bush spokesman, said the polls are likely to bounce back and forth, but he predicted they will move in Mr. Bush's direction following the fall debates.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman appear determined not to stumble in the home stretch.

"I think that the American people have taken a fresh look at Al Gore, agree he's his own man and like what they see," Mr. Lieberman said during the fund-raiser in Boston.

"The whole thing has changed," Mr. Gore added. "We're having a good time out here. We're talking about the issues. We're giving specifics."

Mr. Gore offered plenty of policy specifics in his stump speech, but he gave his most extensive television interviews of the trip to Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman.

On Thursday, Mr. Gore appeared on the "Late Show" and recited a top-10 list of rejected Gore-Lieberman slogans.

"Remember America," said Mr. Gore, "I gave you the Internet and I can take it away."

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