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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Home-Grown Talent

Gore draws on his eldest daughter for help in reaching the sometimes-indifferent youth vote. She has come through, and is considered a campaign natural.

August 16, 2000|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The meeting in the 10th-floor Nashville hotel room had stretched on late into the night, and Vice President Al Gore was finally just about settled on his running mate.

But before he told aides he was going with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, there was one more person he needed to consult: his eldest daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff.

When he reached her at her Manhattan apartment late Aug. 6, Schiff agreed he was making a great choice. Just after midnight, Gore told his top aides: Lieberman was it.

Although Gore's "Kitchen Cabinet" is stocked with campaign veterans, the 27-year-old Schiff has assumed a key role in his presidential bid, emerging as an engaging campaigner who offers her opinions about everything from how to attract the youth vote to her father's clothes.

She was the one who encouraged Gore to start doing "town hall" meetings again, a format that has allowed Gore to seem less formal and stiff.

She and her mother, Tipper, helped persuade him to move his headquarters from Washington to Nashville last fall, a move viewed as superficial by some but one that invigorated his campaign.

And tonight, the new mom and recent law school graduate will take the stage at the Democratic convention and nominate her father to be president.

"I'm obviously just there because I'm his daughter, and that's humbling," she said. "I just want to be able to do him justice."

Schiff has stepped easily into the public eye, able to captivate audiences by speaking passionately about the need to help working mothers and fight political apathy.

But despite her rich political lineage, and her marriage to the son of a blue-blooded New York family, she also projects a disarming down-to-earth quality.

She freely confesses to audiences that she's already forgotten most of what she learned in law school. One recent night, she told reporters about her unbounded enthusiasm for the wonders of the George Foreman Grill, then scolded herself, asking, "Why am I telling you this? This is so weird."

When asked to share things about her father the public doesn't know, she offers this: He's a huge Bob Dylan fan. He likes to paint. Oh, and he's great on planning road trips.

And when speaking recently to a group of Young Democrats in Washington, she gets a laugh when she says: "Between my dad's campaign and new motherhood, sometimes I feel like I'm spending all of my time with 55-year-olds or infants. So I can't tell you what a relief it is to be in a room with other people who actually lived through grunge."

Although many of these students were in elementary school when that rock genre was the rage, they're nevertheless charmed.

"She is so real and so cute," said Samantha Piell, 20, a student at the University of Illinois. "I thought she was going to be interesting and serious, but you can tell she is also really believable, like one of us."

But Schiff is the first to admit her life has been like few other twentysomethings. She was Gore's first child, the older sister of Sarah, 21, Kristin, 23, and Albert, 17. She was 3 when her father was elected to Congress. When Gore ran a campaign out of the basement of their Tennessee home, she innocently told people she lived "at headquarters."

While her father was meeting with advisors prepping him for his first presidential campaign in 1988, a young Karenna, hunched over her homework, piped up from the corner of the room: "Dad, I don't think that's right."

In the fall of 1996, she met Andrew Schiff, a young doctor, at a friend's house. "She immediately knew he was the one," said friend Maggie Pushkar. They were married within a year.

It wasn't until last summer that she decided to take a more public role in Gore's campaign. Pregnant at the time, she was floating in the lake near the family farm in Carthage, Tenn., and found herself thinking about the future.

"I just had a lot of time to think about becoming a mom and suddenly--I wouldn't have predicted that it would make me feel more political--but it really did," she said. Her son, Wyatt, was born on the Fourth of July, a fact his grandfather mentions constantly.

So instead of studying for the bar this summer, Schiff, a recent Columbia Law School graduate, has been hosting fund-raisers for Gore and leading GoreNet, the campaign's youth outreach effort. She tells young people that even she has experienced cynicism.

"I've felt the temptation, especially when faced with some huge, daunting issue, like failing public schools or global warming, to just switch off and cultivate an ironic detachment," she told the Young Democrats.

It's clear Schiff, a self-described "sappy patriot," inherited many of Gore's political instincts. She is quick to scan a room when she enters, making sure to smile to the balconies. When asked about how she balances work and family, she touts her father's efforts to pass the Family and Medical Leave Act.

But she doesn't always stay "on message." After talking enthusiastically in an interview about "what's made our country the best country," she realized what a booster she sounds like, and lowered her voice to a dramatic whisper, laughing at herself.

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