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CAMPAIGN 2000 | 'I'll Stand Up for You,' Gore Pledges

Vice President Accepts the Nomination as 'My Own Man'

Speech Focuses on Social Issues as He Works to Assure Party He Is Ready for the Fight

August 18, 2000|MARK Z. BARABAK and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Al Gore, facing an unsettled party and a doubting public, stepped forward Thursday night as "my own man" and pledged to use this time of plenty to build a "better, fairer, more prosperous America."

In a speech concluding the Democratic convention--and holding huge stakes for his presidential candidacy--Gore sought a measure of credit for the country's economic boom during his eight years as vice president. But he said the nation can do better.

"For all our good times, I am not satisfied," Gore said. "Together, let's make sure that our prosperity enriches not just the few but all working families."

At the same time, Gore strived to forge an identity apart from the popular but scandal-scarred president he has worked alongside in the White House. The challenge was underscored hours earlier, with the disclosure that a new grand jury has been impaneled to hear evidence in the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal.

"I stand here tonight as my own man, and I want you to know me for who I truly am," Gore said. "I want you to know this: I've taken on the powerful forces. And as president, I'll stand up to them and I'll stand up for you." In a 51-minute address that was alternately lyrical, blunt-spoken and occasionally self-deprecating, Gore addressed head-on his image as a wonkish, sometimes pedantic figure.

"I know my own imperfections," he said. "For example, I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy. Maybe I've done that tonight."

"Nooooooo!" roared the crowd, which coursed with an electricity that surged through the jam-packed convention hall.

"But the presidency is more than a popularity contest," Gore said in a clear reference to Republican rival George W. Bush who, polls show, is seen as more likable.

"It's a day-by-day fight for people," Gore went on. "Sometimes you have to choose to do what's difficult or unpopular. Sometimes, you have to be willing to spend your popularity in order to pick the hard right over the easy wrong. . . . If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."

The speech, delivered in a cadence that was more conversational than oratorical, was undeniably the most important of Gore's 24-year political career. In just under one hour's time, he sought to shake up the presidential race and shed image problems that have caused him to persistently lag Bush in the polls.

Feared Violence Never Became Reality

Gore's speech also marked the conclusion of a four-day political fest that succeeded for Los Angeles largely because of something that didn't happen: despite occasional skirmishes, police and protests mostly avoided the violent confrontations some feared.

Left uncertain, however, was how unified Democrats emerged from Staples Center, where the cleanup began not long after the last red, white and blue balloons cascaded onto the gray carpeting.

Liberals have grumbled the party is too centrist, a complaint exacerbated by Gore's selection of moderate Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut as his running mate. At the same time, some centrist and conservative Democrats complained that many of the speakers featured at the convention were too liberal.

It was left to Gore, delivering a speech he wrote almost entirely himself on his ever-present laptop, to bridge the divide, as well as reach out to the independent and swing voters he needs to win in November.

He was introduced by his wife, Tipper, as part of the campaign's effort to humanize a candidate who has turned words like "stiff" and "wooden" into cliches.

"I want you to know that as a husband, father and grandfather, Al has always been there for our family and he will always be there for your family," Mrs. Gore said. Then the lights dimmed and delegates were shown a video-and-slide show that featured pictures of the Gores on prom night, their wedding day and other intimate glimpses of their family life.

As the lights came up and an orchestral fanfare swelled, the vice president bolted into the convention hall, entering from the rear near the Tennessee delegation. The crowd erupted and a sea of blue-and-white "Gore" pennants billowed across the floor. He saw Tipper off the stage with a passionate kiss.

Gore then opened his speech with a nod to President Clinton, saying, "millions of American will live better lives for a long time to come" thanks to his administration. But that was Gore's only specific mention of the man who positioned him for the Democratic nomination by making him his running mate in 1992.

He quickly listed the economy's successes over the last eight years. "But now we turn the page and write a new chapter," Gore said, signaling his point of departure from Clinton.

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