GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. Al Gore compared himself to Lyndon Johnson late Wednesday, then apparently thought better of likening himself to the president who vastly expanded the federal government and escalated the Vietnam War.
After a fund-raiser at the New Jersey mansion of rock star and actor Jon Bon Jovi, Mr. Gore was asked whether he and Texas Gov. George W. Bush “are only different on the edges and don’t want to go into the weeds to find the differences.”
“I totally disagree with that,” Mr. Gore told reporters aboard Air Force Two en route to Michigan. “I think there’s as sharp a difference between any two candidates since Lyndon Johnson and well, I won’t compare it to ‘64. It’s the sharpest contrast I’ve seen in many an election.”
Mr. Johnson, an avowed liberal, defeated arch-conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964, only to opt against running for re-election in 1968 amid growing social unrest. This year, Republicans have accused Mr. Gore of plotting the largest expansion of the federal government since Mr. Johnson’s Great Society programs.
Although Mr. Gore continued to rail against tax cuts for “people with incomes of more than $1 million per year,” those were precisely the people he turned to for donations totaling $850,000 in hard and soft money at Mr. Bon Jovi’s home.
Also yesterday, Mr. Gore who has taken considerable heat for false stories he told during the debate criticized Mr. Bush, saying that he, too, told some falsehoods.
“He said that I spent more on my campaign than he has,” Mr. Gore said. “The numbers show that he has spent twice as much as I have. But I didn’t seize on that as evidence of some character flaw. He made a mistake, and I’m not going to attack him personally.”
The vice president delayed rush-hour traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway for at least an hour as his motorcade wound its way into the comfortably wooded meadows of Monmouth County, where Mr. Bon Jovi resides in an opulent chateau.
“Bush-Cheney” signs dotted the secluded lane that also is home to talk-show host Geraldo Rivera, racing team owner Roger Penske and actress Heather Locklear, who is married to Mr. Bon Jovi’s guitarist, Richie Sambora.
Democrats who paid $1,000 were allowed to drink by the outdoor Jacuzzi and pool, where stemless Gerber daisies of red, orange and yellow floated on the water. Those who donated $25,000 were allowed inside the house to munch hors d’oeuvres with Mr. Gore and Mr. Bon Jovi.
“I want the ‘me generation’ to become the ‘we generation’” Mr. Bon Jovi told his guests. “Compassionate, caring.”
He then introduced Mr. Gore, who said: “This may be the single most fun event of the campaign.”
Mr. Gore, who often says he is for “the people, not the powerful,” left the powerful in New Jersey and headed for the people in Michigan. A downtown Grand Rapids rally drew several thousand residents, including a number of children.
“If we squander the surplus on a tax cut, nearly 30 percent of which would go to people with incomes of more than $1 million per year, then the resources would not be there for the priorities that are crucial for the future of these children,” the vice president said.
“That’s what this election is all about,” he continued. “It’s not about personality. It’s not about politics. It’s about priorities. It’s about choices. It’s about the direction we take in the future.”
Keenly aware that many voters consider him more knowledgeable and less likable than Mr. Bush, the vice president is trying to cast the election as one of substance over style. Still, he continues to seek stylistic advice from 13 ordinary Democrats who helped him prepare for Tuesday’s debate.
But rather than fly them to Florida this weekend for several days of preparations, Mr. Gore said he will talk to them “through a series of conference calls. It’s expensive to fly them all to Florida.”
“They’re kind of like a permanent focus group,” Mr. Gore said. “I mean, they come up with insights the political pros are completely blind and deaf to.”
Pressed for specifics, he said: “Smile. Stuff like that.”
He added: “What it all boils down to is you’re having a conversation with real people and what’s the big deal about it. Why make it into a big, formal whoopty-do just to tell people what’s on your mind?”