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It's Hunting Season

CAMPAIGN ROADMAP / A continuing series of articles analyzing the 2000 presidential strategies.

October 22, 2000|Robert G. Beckel | Robert G. Beckel, a political analyst, served as campaign manager for Walter F. Mondale in 1984

WASHINGTON — The Al Gore who wowed 'em at the Los Angeles Democratic convention last summer came out of hibernation at Tuesday's third and final presidential debate. Why his campaign has allowed Al "The Bear" Gore to duck and cover the last month is perplexing. But what is done is done. The bear is back, seal up his den and let him roam free to hunt his agile but much weaker prey, George W. "The Rabbit" Bush.

Few politicians can reinvent themselves, particularly in a presidential race. So my advice to Gore is to continue to reinvent government, but forget any advice to reinvent yourself. Bears are tough, but rarely lovable. Rabbits are cute, but run from a fight. Bush was in full rabbit mode Tuesday. He poked his head up occasionally to throw a rock at the bear, only to run when the bear returned fire with a shotgun. The rabbit tried to look cuddly for the crowd when he could, but took to the briar patch when the bear rose to challenge the rabbit's cuddly act.

More important, bear didn't follow rabbit into the briar patch. He learned that the best place to fight a rabbit is on the bear's own turf, where he can roam freely, and the rabbit can't hide so easily. Sure, in the beginning of the debate, rabbit moved quickly and ducked well, but like any little animal, he got tired. When he did, bear pounced on him. All rabbit could do was to cry foul and beg benevolent animal trainer Jim Lehrer to bail him out.

Enough with the animal analogies. The question is, does Gore get the message? If not, herewith a campaign strategy for the remaining 15 days.

Do not let Bush get away with ducking questions about his positions on taxes, education, health care, etc. It's clear that the guy cannot take a punch on any of these. If Bush tries to duck, Gore needs to point out that avoiding tough questions is the worst character flaw any president can have. I think Bush is fast becoming a "serial liar," not a ducker, but Gore can't say that. Bush is afraid to answer because he knows that his policies will lose voters. Now that's immoral.

Use Bush's debate answers against him. Last Tuesday, the Texas governor was finally forced to own up to his tax-cut welfare plan for the rich. Now is the time for Gore to pound him. The wimpy press corps doesn't seem to want to hurt the cuddly rabbit, so Gore's campaign needs to stop complaining about the press. Bears don't whine; they attack when their prey is wounded. Bush is bleeding some now. Hit him on the wound.

Now that Gore has worked his way out of Bush's briar patch, he needs to stay out. The campaign issues of 2000 are clearly being fought out on Gore's and the Democrats' home field. Stay there, and don't let Bush steal a home-team jersey at halftime, like he has been doing lately. For the last few weeks, Bush has been playing Democrat on everything from education to health care.

Gore needs to tell voters what the briar patch--aka Texas--is really like. Pretty on top, but deadly as an alligator swamp at its core. Deadly, that is, if you're a Texas kid without health insurance, deadly if you're old and can't breath the polluted air, and deadly if you get near the thousands of yahoos Bush allows to carry concealed weapons (including a few criminals), but a wonderful place if you're rich and especially if you're oil-rich.

Finally, Gore needs to make people respect and admire him, not love him, which they never will. But given the choice between cuddly and strong, the voters want a strong president. But strength doesn't need to be mean, it needs to be tough. Gore needs to keep the plight of real people--not himself--at the forefront. Voters will better understand what a horror a Bush presidency would be for folks who have real needs for health insurance, prescription-drug coverage and better public schools when it is put in terms of real people, not because Gore says it's so.

Al, it's rabbit season. Go hunt. *

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