KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Like a salesman who senses that the buyer is eager and time is slipping away, Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore has pulled out all the stops in recent days to close the deal that would send Bill Clinton and him to the White House.
Normally a cautious campaigner and stickler for details of the campaign's detailed economic theme, Gore has been expressing himself with a rare intensity that for him might be mistaken for reckless abandon.
This has permitted his crowds to see the Tennessee senator's personal and emotional colorings, previously well hidden beneath his blue-suited and buttoned-down image.
For example, Gore has taken to noting signs that he likes in nearly every crowd. Earlier in the campaign, he was so focused on what he was saying that he often appeared not to notice such signs and rarely challenged the hecklers who inevitably appeared.
On Sunday, however, Gore deviated from his speech here at Western Michigan University to draw attention to several signs, including one that read: "I Love Mr. Ozone." That one, featuring a reference to the moniker President Bush has used to ridicule Gore's environmental activism, gave Gore a reason to highlight his environmental positions and take a few potshots at the President.
"He seems to like Z's," Gore said, noting that Bush frequently refers to him as "Mr. Ozone," "crazy," and a "bozo."
Then, Gore attacked Bush's claim that his dog knows more than the Democratic ticket about foreign policy. "Maybe it was Millie that told him to roll over and play dead on domestic policy," Gore said.
Gore often uses dry ridicule to blister the President, and lately he has shown a new-found eagerness and a greater willingness to interrupt texts of his speeches to do so.
At a campaign rally Thursday at Lamar University in Beaumont, Tex., Gore paused in his remarks to challenge a particularly aggressive group of Bush supporters. As the youthful demonstrators chanted in an effort to drown out Gore's message, the candidate asked them if they supported parental leave without pay to care for a sick child.
The hecklers were momentarily thrown off stride, and Gore declared that Republicans are only interested in disruptions and diversions.
As Gore has crisscrossed the nation the last few days, he has drawn attention to issues, such as the environment and community responsibility, that are important to him. He devoted a speech to the environment last Friday, for example, giving the topic more attention than it has had so far in the campaign.
Last Tuesday night a Gore speech in Ft. Collins, Colo., was canceled when a crude bomb was found at a high school where he was to speak. The vice presidential candidate insisted that his schedule be changed to permit a return to the Colorado college town, where he delivered a personal and eloquent message on social harmony on Saturday.
"Here, in Ft. Collins, people started reaching into their hearts and reaching out to their neighbors," he said with emotion. "And you have joined hands and joined voices to deliver a clear message about your community and your commitment to each other. You have a gift in the community. Treasure it. Honor it. Teach it to your children so they can pass it on to their children."
Marla Romash, Gore's press secretary, said that Gore has made a conscious decision to change the tone of his speeches as the campaign draws to close.
"For a good part of this campaign, he talked about the Bush-Quayle plans and the Clinton-Gore plans and the differences between the two," said Romash "Now, he's trying to say (what he feels) about us and about you as a nation in a way that he hasn't before."