- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Vice President Al Gore makes fun of his stiff awkwardness, but consultants suggest Mr. Gore's "personality gap" with Texas Gov. George W. Bush is no laughing matter.

"It may be superficial, but I think it matters," says David Bositis, an analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Voters consider personality when choosing a president, because "you are going to keep watching him for the next four years."

Mr. Gore is "charismatically challenged" in an era when political leaders must have people skills as well as smarts, says Ronald Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland.

Many voters find Mr. Bush likeable, and are now judging whether he has "the intellectual substance to go with his ease with people," Mr. Walters says.

Both presumptive nominees for president are combating caricatures of themselves Mr. Bush that he is a smirking lightweight, Mr. Gore that he is stiff and phony.

Mr. Gore leavens his image with self-deprecating humor. He jokes that you can tell him apart from Secret Service agents because he's the stiff one. Republicans are happy to reinforce that image.

Mr. Gore "seems to be kind of a British stiff-upper-lip tradition guy," Republican presidential longshot Alan Keyes cracked on NBC's "The Tonight Show" earlier this month. "But he's extended it to his whole body."

Mr. Gore, who trails Mr. Bush by six to eight percentage points in three recent national polls, sought to reassure Democratic leaders from 34 states Thursday in Nashville.

His aides told Democratic officials that the more voters see Mr. Gore, the more they like him. They said Mr. Gore will cut into Mr. Bush's lead by the summer political conventions.

Doug Horne, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, told Reuters after the meeting that Mr. Gore "may not be the guy you drink beer with at a NASCAR race. But he is the man who ought to be president of the United States. He has the depth, understanding, knowledge and experience."

Analysts say Mr. Gore has the misfortune of appearing alongside President Clinton, the natural presidential candidate who feeds off crowds and once donned shades and played the saxophone on television.

"Al Gore is not a person I would describe as having a natural grace with his personality," Mr. Bositis said.

Last July, long before Mr. Gore took his campaign to Nashville and ditched his blue suit and donned earth tones, a California analyst saw something missing in the prospective Democratic nominee.

Mr. Gore "doesn't appear to be as Californian as George W. Bush, as cool and comfortable in his own skin," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at Claremont Graduate University.

"There is something Reaganesque about George W. Bush, something Clintonesque in the best sense, in the early sense," she said.

Mr. Gore recognizes that even now, after impeachment, he doesn't have Mr. Clinton's magic touch with Democratic crowds.

"It was eight years ago this summer that Bill Clinton helped me fulfill a lifelong dream," Mr. Gore told the Democrats at a fund-raiser at the MCI Center Wednesday night.

"As I said at the convention in New York, I had always wanted the chance to be the warm-up act for Elvis at Madison Square Garden."

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