"These are people that the rest of the world tries not to make eye contact with," Letke-Alexander said. "And she would sit with these folks and tell them what beautiful eyes they had. Or: 'Oh, I like the way you laugh.' "
One day, a Georgetown street regular tipped off some Canadian journalists about when Gore would be there. Spotting the camera crew, Gore had the Secret Service shoo them away. When Letke-Alexander heard the homeless man talking about what he had done, she went to Gore.
"Instead of jumping on him, like you would have expected, she turned it into a positive. She told him, if there are journalists around here, I can't do this. She gave him the job of helping her to continue."
Working with schizophrenic street people sometimes strains the patience of Gore's Secret Service detail. But Nan Roman, head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, said Gore has helped to raise the profile of an otherwise unpopular issue.
Gore regularly invites formerly homeless people to holiday parties at the vice president's residence. If she moves to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., she will continue this practice.
"Of course," said Gore, surprised the question came up. "Why wouldn't I?"
Tipper the Lens Meister
As her husband announced his running mate last week, Tipper was up on the podium, shooting pictures. This may have shattered protocol, but it was predictable. Almost like a protective device--an object she can pick up when the world is looking at her--the camera is always with her. Gore uses her lens to choose sides, a behind-the-shutter role that shields her from the spotlight. When Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993, for example, there was Tipper, shooting pictures. Campaigning in 1992 and 1996, she stuck her head out the window to record the scene as the bus rumbled by.
Gore took up photography about 30 years ago, when she shot pictures for the Nashville Tennessean. After her husband went to Congress in 1976, Gore freelanced in newspapers and magazines, and in 1996 compiled a book, "Picture This," which included near-beefcake pictures of Al Gore shaving. Gore also was among a dozen photographers who fanned across America last year to assemble a new book and photo exhibit called "The Way Home: Ending Homelessness in America."
Long before she published her first picture, friends say, Gore had the makings of a professional photographer. "Tipper always had independent reactions. She just saw things in a slightly different way," said Peretz, who met Gore when she was 18. "She was always seeing things in nature--for example, lavender on the hill. The rest of us just saw a hill."
John Siegenthaler, her former boss at the Tennessean, has his own take on Gore's relationship with her camera. "It's viral, that's what it is," he said. "It got in her blood and went up to her head. She's always taking pictures! God knows what pictures of the vice president she has that we'll never see, but I'd love to get into that stack of negatives."
Tipper the Mom
They met at a dance at St. Albans, Al Gore's prep school on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. She was 16, the only child of parents from Arlington, Va., who divorced when she was 4. He was one year older. Even as teenagers, both knew they wanted a large family. After they married, the babies came smoothly: three girls, and then baby Albert.
Karenna Schiff, now the mother of 1-year-old Wyatt, the Gores' first grandchild, traces her mother's "super-empathic" qualities to a childhood surrounded by women: her "totally iconoclastic" mother, her aunt and her grandmother. "Being an only child, growing up the way she did, her personality was always very bright," Schiff said of her mother.
Tipper's mother, who worked as an accountant, never remarried and now lives with the Gores. Her father, who still lives in the Washington area, remarried several times, bringing an assortment of step-siblings in and out of Tipper's life. If it wasn't exactly "Ozzie and Harriet," Gore thinks "maybe it made me the kind of person I am."
Tipper set limits when the kids were growing up, Schiff said, "but we always knew we'd have to answer to Dad." Tipper ran the household on a family meeting system, in which anyone could call a meeting to discuss any issue.
This is what matters most in life to her, her husband said in an interview this month in Washington: "the family, the children and our time together."
Tipper the Friend in Deed
Campaigning in Connecticut last month, Gore walked arm-in-arm with Hadassah Lieberman and exclaimed, "I love this woman!"
Years ago, the two bonded over yoga, long before their husbands became running mates, placing Lieberman in an army of Tipper Gore buddies of varied stripes and persuasions. Friends form an extended family to Gore. She sends notes or flowers or goofy gifts. She trades book titles or jokes or fitness tips.