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CAMPAIGN 2000

As Underdog or Top Dog, Gore Won't Change Pace

Campaign: Continuing to lead in the polls, the vice president shows no sense of heightened excitement--or anxiety that it might not last. He just keeps going.

September 15, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Vice President Al Gore and his running mate were facing an ebullient crowd welcoming them to the Long Wharf in Boston the other day when Joseph I. Lieberman shouted, "We feel some wind at our back."

In the breezy dusk of the Boston waterfront, he was speaking both literally and figuratively. But you wouldn't know, from watching Gore, that the Democratic presidential campaign was picking up speed.

Pollsters report good news. Crowds grow. The GOP nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and the Republican campaign keep trying to find an even keel but list. Through it all, Gore shows no sense of heightened excitement--or even anxiety that it might not last. He just keeps going.

Consider that stop in Boston: With no more than four hours of sleep, Gore got up at 6 a.m. Wednesday in the home of two high school teachers in Lewiston, Maine. He spent eight hours at their school, then flew to Boston. After a Democratic National Committee fund-raising concert by James Taylor (at which Gore briefly played air-guitar onstage before the concert began), the vice president spoke to the 900 or so contributors and then headed north to Manchester, N.H., a 70-minute drive up Interstate 93, for a rally of more than 3,000 people. It would not end until nearly midnight.

And at that hour, there he was, shaking hands in the chilly night air with just about all who waited for him. And many did.

On Thursday, after a sinfully late start--his first public event wasn't until around 11 a.m. in Manchester--he squeezed in a speech, by satellite, to a machinists union meeting. Then he flew to New York for a round-table discussion, organized by his eldest daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, with some young adults at a hip cafe on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Next was an appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show" and, after dark, his third fund-raiser in three nights: a $6.5-million affair for the DNC at Radio City Music Hall.

As disciplined as he has been at keeping to a driven style of campaigning, he has been unvarying too at adhering to his chosen message, from noon to noon and midnight to midnight.

What does vary, however, are his inflections and pacing. He is deft at reading his audience, so that even without changing the words, he can modulate his delivery to suit the crowd. It is as though his voice can sense not only the architecture of the hall but also that of the crowd's emotions.

And so, to a rally at midnight, he can shout out, "I want to work for you!" and win whistles and shouts. And at noon, in a school gymnasium, speaking to eighth-graders and their parents, the same sentence can be delivered with an earnestness that prompts not whistles but quiet nods of approval.

But the delivery of speeches aside, Gore campaigns the same way, whether ahead in the polls or behind.

"He approaches it with equanimity," said Chris Lehane, the spokesman who has traveled at Gore's side for more than a year. "You know there are going to be ups and downs."

Indeed, the summer for Gore--until early August, when he created a stir by naming Lieberman as his running mate--was one long downer, as Bush led in poll after poll.

But does the pace matter?

Not necessarily. Ronald Reagan swept to two White House terms while late-night talk show hosts joked about a schedule that let him sleep late and put him to bed early. And voters aren't always paying close attention to a campaign.

"Voters at a rally at 8 a.m. don't know Gore will keep going at 8 p.m.," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in Washington.

A Pew poll released Thursday suggests a surge over the summer in the attention voters are paying to the issues. From July to September, the percentage of voters who cited the issues as the reason they were backing Gore or Bush rose from 36% to 45%.

So, Kohut said, "issues have helped Gore to move into a small but significant lead. I don't think it's the sheer energy level, but the message is getting through." The poll showed Gore leading Bush among likely voters, 48% to 43%.

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