Just as Vice President Al Gore claims to have the support of a crucial bloc of delegates to the Democratic presidential nominating convention, the Republicans are reminding Gore that his own support of one Democrat in particular, Bill Clinton, may hurt his candidacy more than help it.
Next week, a billboard showing Gore and Clinton embracing, paid for by the Republican National Committee, will go up within sight of Gore's Nashville campaign headquarters. In the ad, Gore is quoted as calling Clinton "one of our greatest presidents," a comment he made after the House of Representatives impeached Clinton last December.
"It'll be a constant reminder to Gore's many paid consultants of the biggest problem they face in their effort to put Al Gore in the White House--the fact that for the last six years, he's been Clinton's chief cheerleader, champion and chum," RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson said.
The RNC plans to update the billboard with more advertisements and has leased the sign through March, with an option to keep it through next November's election.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said: "We absolutely look forward to talking about the successes of the Clinton-Gore administrations. We certainly look forward to comparing that to what the Republicans are offering, which is zip, zero, nothing."
While the vice president has painted his association with Clinton as a positive, Republicans hope that the unprecedented closeness between the president and his second-in-command will cost Gore votes, particularly those of independents. But among Democratic officeholders and party activists, Gore is heavily favored over his challenger, former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Gore's campaign claims to have secured the support of more than 500 of the 800 "super-delegates" who will attend the Democratic Party's convention next August in Los Angeles. Such delegates may vote for the candidate of their choice and are not bound by the results in state primaries or caucuses.
Though the super-delegates could switch their allegiance at any time, having this influential group behind him two months before the first primary vote puts Gore one-quarter of the way toward securing the nomination.
"Al Gore has worked very hard over the last seven years to earn the support and trust of the core of the Democratic Party," Lehane said. Still, he added, Gore will continue to court those super-delegates who have yet to endorse him.
Bradley has far fewer super-delegates committed to him, but his campaign could not say Tuesday how many.
"We always thought heading into this that Al Gore would have clear advantages in the political super-delegates arena," said Kristen Ludecke, a Bradley spokeswoman. "Bill Bradley often says that Al Gore has entrenched power, and all he has is the people. The strength of Bill Bradley is the voters."
Furthermore, Ludecke questioned the Gore camp's claim of 500 super-delegates.
"They've been known to exaggerate," she said.
A candidate needs 2,169 votes from 4,367 delegates to become the Democratic candidate for president. Super-delegates make up about 18% of the Democratic delegates and include Democratic National Committee members, members of Congress, governors, party leaders and elected officials selected by their states.
Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this story.