- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES The Democratic delegates knew Bill Clinton. They worked twice for Bill Clinton. And the sad truth is, Al Gore is no Bill Clinton.

Even as the 5,500 delegates and alternates at the Democratic National Convention raised the roof for Vice President Gore Thursday night,they also admitted apprehension that their new standard-bearer can't possibly inspire voters as well as President Clinton did in 1992 and 1996.

"There's some letdown that our president is leaving us," said Dan Valentine, a delegate from Peoria, Ill. "He loves the camera and he loves people. We're going to miss him a lot. But it's time to move on.

"But we've got a fine candidate in Al Gore," he added quickly.

Mr. Gore wasted little time last night trying to carve his own niche apart from Mr. Clinton.

"I stand here tonight as my own man," he said as cheers erupted on the floor of the Staples Center and delegates waved a sea of white "Gore" pennants. The roar drowned out his next words: "I want you to know me for who I truly am."

Mr. Gore met his fallibility with humor.

"If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician," he said. "But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."

Said delegate Dick Snyder of Arkansas: "I thought it was a great speech. I liked the specifics and his delivery. He acknowledged he may not be the most exciting one."

The influence of teachers unions among the delegates was evident, as some of the wildest applause of the night followed Mr. Gore's pledge to fight school vouchers.

Although the party faithful expressed nearly uniform admiration and respect for Mr. Gore, and cheered wildly at his speech, some of them said he clearly doesn't measure up in charisma to liberal lions such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, let alone to Mr. Clinton.

"I've seen charismatic figures," said Wayne Bailey, a Florida delegate attending his eighth convention. "The people who gave the speeches Tuesday night [Mr. Jackson, Mr. Kennedy and former Sen. Bill Bradley] were the most likely to mobilize the voters. It's no secret for Democrats, the strategy is to get people to focus on issues."

Many of the delegates on the floor of the Staples Center expressed hope that Mr. Gore will be able to win over voters more on his intellectual ability than on his less-reliable skill at working a room.

"He may not be the warm, charismatic person that Mr. Clinton is, but he will make a wonderful president," said Jim Stevens, a delegate from Royalton, Ill. "If voters will look at the substance, his voting record shows a good, compassionate, intelligent person."

Mr. Stevens' wife, Deana, added that Mr. Gore "has come a long way" in the personality department.

"He's speaking more from the heart now," Mrs. Stevens said. "I think he's getting better at speaking to the public. It's kind of like following Jesse Jackson or Stevie Wonder. He had a tough act to follow."

Before Mr. Gore took the stage Thursday night, Rep. Maxine Waters of California thundered from the platform, "I am convinced that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are smarter than the Republican opposition."

Mr. Valentine said charisma is overrated, anyway.

"I've got a city councilman who keeps a parrot on his shoulder in the council chamber," Mr. Valentine said. "The guy's nuts. But when you call on him and you need something, he gets it done."

Delegate Audrey McCain, a lawyer from Plaquemine, La., pointed to her state's former governor, Edwin Edwards, as a lesson in the perils of a personality that burns too brightly.

"In Louisiana we had a governor who got elected for 20 years, and now he's fixing to go to the penitentiary," Mrs. McCain said, referring to Edwards' conviction on racketeering charges. "Personality only goes so far. That kind of charisma, even with Clinton, caught up with him. Gore is a little blander, but he seems to be very direct. Gore is going to become more personable."

Until he does, Democratic delegates said, the ticket has other things going for it, such as prosperity unequaled in the nation's history.

"To continue on the successes of the past eight years, that's the key," said Levi Phillips, a delegate from Berryville, Ark. "People need to see the facts that they've got bread on the table and a full tank of gas."

Mrs. McCain of Louisiana agreed.

"If it's not broken, why fix it?" she asked. "There's not a reason I can think of to change anything. We need to stay on message 'Are you better off than you were eight years ago?' And we have to avoid getting caught up in the rhetoric of Clinton and his indiscretions."

Said T.J. Rooney, a state representative in Pennsylvania, "Once people start focusing on issues, that's when we'll really see substantial movement toward Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. It's in the process."

As with the final night of the Republican convention, dissension was way below the surface at last night's orchestrated event.

But undercurrents were felt in the message from the party's largely ignored pro-life faction. Pat Casey, a House candidate from Pennsylvania and son of the late pro-life Gov. Robert P. Casey, was given the opportunity that his father was denied at the Democrats' 1992 convention to speak from the stage. A video presentation paid tribute to the late governor.

"This video tribute was a step in the right direction," Mr. Casey said yesterday. "Obviously, we can't do justice to what my father would have said in 1992. It's not perfect, but it's progress."

Mr. Casey said he supports Mr. Gore even though the vice president has promised to preserve access to partial-birth abortions on late-term fetuses.

"We have a basic disagreement," Mr. Casey said. "But I think he will be a strong president. In order to win elections, they have to open the party up."

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