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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Takes Lead on Crucial Speech

August 17, 2000|CATHLEEN DECKER and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Speech looms before Al Gore tonight as a potential make-or-break moment for his underdog campaign, perhaps his best chance before the fall debates to upend the consistent lead of Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush.

As he flew toward Los Angeles on Wednesday, Gore was tinkering with his address, which will follow his introduction by his wife, Tipper. Aides said he had written the speech himself, but it appeared that he was making liberal use of editors.

"I will deserve the credit or the blame," Gore told reporters on Air Force Two. "I've been rewriting and editing and tweaking."

The stakes are enormous. The speech will likely provide Gore with his last high-profile opportunity to change the race's dynamic until late September or October, the usual timing of the presidential debates. Making the task even harder are the well-received speeches of President Clinton and vice presidential pick Joseph I. Lieberman, with which Gore's words will compete.

Gore's troops were trying to play down the importance of the speech, the better to surprise convention viewers if Gore hits a home run or to lessen the damage if he strikes out.

But a Gore spokesman inadvertently hyped the stakes--at least for Laker fans--when he compared Clinton's Monday convention address and Gore's speech tonight to the dynamic duo who brought a championship to Los Angeles.

"It's like Kobe giving Shaq an alley-oop pass," said Chris Lehane.

Others were more to the point. "It better be one hell of a speech," said Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., a Democrat from Illinois.

The vice president and his aides said that Gore's speech would be chock-full of detail, reflecting their view that they can win the election on issues, if not personality. Democrats have worked to inject a mind-numbing array of policy details into the convention in the belief that some waffling voters may have been turned off by the more fluffy Republican convention.

Gore said Wednesday that he hopes that viewers will "have a clear idea of exactly what I'm proposing to do."

Gore is a former newspaper reporter who has also crafted other speeches and a book, "Earth in the Balance." He started writing the speech during his weeklong North Carolina vacation, which began July 27.

Gore's are hardly the only fingers tapping keyboards in service of The Speech. Bob Shrum, one of the Democratic Party's legendary wordsmiths and a Gore advisor, met Gore in Cleveland this week to help fine-tune the remarks. Also editing was Gore's chief image maker, Carter Eskew.

Others who have consulted include Gore's wife, his daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, his brother-in-law Frank Hunger and Eli Atie, the vice president's chief speech writer.

"I've asked for advice from a lot of people," Gore said. "I've gotten advice from a lot of people."

But Gore appeared to be trying, more than many other candidates, to put a personal stamp on his remarks. When he was in the same shoes--a vice president trailing badly in the polls--George Bush left the writing of his big speech to author Peggy Noonan. He edited her, a reversal of Gore's situation.

Bush's son, the current Republican nominee, had a team working on his speech for two months. Although he did not write it, he helped revise it through more than a dozen drafts, aides said.

In the past, Gore has turned his convention addresses into emotional expositions. In 1992, he recounted the story of the critical injury of his son, Albert III, who nearly died after being struck by a car. In 1996, he brought many to tears with his account of his sister's death from lung cancer that he blamed on her cigarette habit.

Neither Gore nor his aides were offering many hints about tonight's themes, but the candidate declared himself at peace.

"I feel very relaxed," he said. "Maybe I shouldn't, but I do."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

What Gore Will See

When Vice President Al Gore gives his nomination acceptance speech tonight, he will use a TelePrompTer. This system allows a speaker to make eye contact with the audience while reading the speech. Here's how it works: *

*

1. Backstage, an operator at a PC loaded with text of the script listens with headphones to speaker, scrolling text to match speed of voice.

*

2. Script is sent by video signal to monitors.

*

3. All four monitors provide speaker with six to seven lines of speech text. Scrolling text on glass flat screens can be seen by speaker but is transparent to the audience.

*

Sources: Computer Prompting Services Inc.; Audio Video Design Inc.

researched by JULIE SHEER/Los Angeles Times

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