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CAMPAIGN 2000

It's Mr. Low-Key vs. Mr. Congenial

Politics: On the campaign trail, Cheney's and Lieberman's divergent styles, not to mention their political philosophies, are on display day after day.

September 08, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

It would be hard to conjure up a more stark comparison than the divergent moods of the two vice presidential campaigns.

With a broad grin, Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman gives pinch-me-am-I-really-here pep talks at nearly every stop and calls Al Gore's selection of him nothing short of "miraculous."

A more sedate Dick Cheney, the Republican, speaks wistfully of his eight years in the private sector when "life was good"--before he left private life for the glad-handing required to run for high office.

"This is not exactly how we planned to spend the fall," he told a group of supporters Thursday at a Maine fund-raiser. "But Gov. [George W.] Bush put the arm on me and Lynne and I were happy to do it."

This wasn't how Lieberman planned to spend his fall, either. But the candidates' styles, not to mention their political philosophies, are on display day after day.

First, consider Cheney. With a taciturn style and low-wattage personality, Cheney is far from a natural campaigner. He rarely revs up a crowd, and when he succeeds, he doesn't seem to know what to do.

At a boisterous--by his standards--rally at the Burlington, Vt., airport Thursday night, crowd members started shouting answers to his questions about Gore's record in office.

"Al Gore and Bill Clinton think the engine that drives the American economy is inside the Beltway," said Cheney, a standard line for him.

"No way!" one man shouted.

Cheney, startled in mid-remark, barely paused, plowing ahead when he could have milked the moment. But the man and others kept shouting encouragement; Cheney eventually warmed up to him, playing off the crowd, if ever so slightly.

At Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, were greeted with a standing ovation when they entered the hall.

But then, as Dick Cheney began a speech with little rhetorical flourish and poorly delivered applause lines, it seemed as if audience members were sitting on their hands. Nearly 15 minutes in, they clapped for the first time. The line that did it? Cheney's promise to U.S. military personnel: "Help is on the way."

One attendee's assessment of the performance? Good, but maybe a little dry.

Typically, his stump speeches sound more like policy briefings, tossing in words like "industrial base" and "procurement." Even with partisan crowds, when he speaks it often takes a lone pair of clapping hands to spark more general applause.

Although some Republican analysts worry that the low-key style of the former Defense secretary will do little to boost lagging polls, some listeners say they appreciate his lack of artifice. No style is his style.

"I like what he had to say and I like that he's plain-spoken," said Eldon Morrison, who attended a Republican fund-raising breakfast Thursday in Portland, Maine. "I don't like it when people lie to me."

Cheney's solo campaign stops have been largely to out-of-the-way spots in front of small partisan crowds. Take this week. Besides Portland, Cheney visited Wilmington, Del.; Wayne, Pa.; Londonderry, N.H.; and Burlington, Vt. With the exception of Pennsylvania--whose 23 electoral votes are considered key to the election--the other locations account for a total of 14 electoral votes.

In part, those close to Cheney attribute his reticence to his time out of the public eye. They describe a warm, funny man who they insist would be well-liked if people got to know him.

On Labor Day, Cheney danced the polka at a Polish food festival in Chicago. On Thursday, he moved out from behind the lectern at an event in Londonderry with a talk-show-style mike clipped to his dark pinstriped jacket. He even added arm movements.

Lieberman, meanwhile, can't seem to keep his arms down. The Connecticut senator raises them euphorically and thrusts them into crowds to shake hands.

Tieless and jacketless, he bounded onto his new campaign airplane for its virgin voyage Aug. 27, delighting at the sight of the large "Gore-Lieberman 2000" sign stenciled on the side. "Is America a great country or what?" he asked.

His enthusiasm--and the stamina he is known for--was evident Monday when he stopped by Ned Skeldon Stadium in Maumee, Ohio, to watch the final season game of the Toledo Mud Hens. Lieberman was pushing his 24th straight hour of campaigning, but he couldn't have looked happier.

As he walked through the stands to shake some hands, he was promptly mobbed by a crowd thrusting baseballs and ticket stubs at him, begging for autographs. Behind him, the scoreboard flashed his name in lights. Some might find it irritating or too precious, but he infuses his speeches with a dry, often corny sense of humor.

In Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, Lieberman even jumped on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle during a visit to the bike factory, surprising his aides and Secret Service agents. On Thursday, he helped firefighters in Little Rock, Ark., wash their red engine with a long-handled brush.

His peppy mood has been fueled by the Democrats' lifting poll numbers and Lieberman's own assessment that the campaign has captured that elusive but essential quality: "momentum."

For now, at least, he is basking in the attention. At the tail end of the Labor Day campaign-a-thon, he still found the energy to pump his fist in the air to greet 500-some union workers at a meeting hall in Peoria, Ill.

The crowd fell silent as he began to speak, and then a man in the back of the room shouted, "Go, Joe, Go!" Suddenly, with one voice, the entire room picked up the chant. Lieberman looked alternately overwhelmed and thrilled.

"I could get used to this," he said with a laugh.

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