Pubdate: Thu, 02 Dec 1999
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 1999 The New York Times Company
Author: Katharine Q. Seelye
Note: In next to last paragraph: He said he would ban marijuana but that it
would not be "practical" to ban cigarettes because so many people were
addicted to them.


CONCORD, N.H. -- Al Gore used to be a stick-to-the-script kind of guy. Lots
of mind-numbing facts about the gross domestic product. But since he
revamped his campaign two months ago after a slide in the polls, Gore has
also revamped himself and thrown out the script of his standard stump speech.

Now, the vice president is trying to appeal to real people by portraying
himself as a real person, too. He does not make full-blown speeches; he chats.

He wanders into living rooms to talk with 30 people or into school
gymnasiums to talk with 300 and conducts Oprah-style discussions, which he
calls open meetings. He sometimes relies on stock answers to convey his
positions on the issues: He wants to resubmit the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty that the Senate recently rejected. He wants to bring "revolutionary
change" to public schools. He wants to give health insurance to all children.

But more often than not, the message is about him. He talks about being a
grandfather, about having lived in a trailer park, about how much he likes
the pop singer Ricky Martin. And the medium of open meetings is an
important part of the message -- that Gore is open, not the android of his
reputation but a confident, freewheeling guy, able to handle any topic
thrown at him, able to relate to all kinds of people.

The result is a scene like one on Tuesday at a high school here, where he
was asked about violence. on television.

Gore said he liked to watch "The Simpsons," prompting a round of applause
from the teenage audience. Then he talked about watching the Simpsons watch
"The Itchy and Scratchy Show," the cartoon within the cartoon, with its
parody of violence. "They'll take out a chain saw and slice the arms off,
horrible, blood spurting out, and Bart and Lisa and the little baby,
Maggie, they'll laugh and giggle at this mayhem," he says, laughing himself.

"I'm sitting there watching this saying, 'Oh my God, this is awful,' " he
laughs, but he says he also enjoys it. "I'm really kind of conflicted, and
that's what they're going for," he says, making the point that people
become desensitized to violence when they see it all the time.

Earlier that day, he told business executives that he lived in a trailer
park after he joined the Army. And out popped the little-known fact that he
once was a housing developer.

Later at an American Legion post in Manchester, he was hailed by veterans
for enlisting in the Army, but he insisted that he was not as brave as that
implies. He became an enlisted man, as opposed to trying to become an
officer, he said, because it meant only two years in the service, not three.

Still, he conveyed an empathy with his fellow veterans and quoted a poem
from a Vietnam buddy: "Each face may lose its name and time will not defer,
but there will always be the bond between who we are and where we were."

Gore said recently that campaigns are "transformational," and in the past
two months, as he has sought to regain an edge on his challenger, former
Senator Bill Bradley, Gore has undergone a very public transformation as he
searches for who he is and who he wants to be.

As he and his aides see it, Gore's challenge is not to show his smarts; he
knows the issues inside out. His challenge is to show that a lifetime in
politics has not stifled his growth, that he is not all tactics and
caution, that he can think on his feet and engage the nation on his own
terms, not as a spear-carrier in the Clinton administration.

The open format lends Gore an air of effortlessness, of someone open to the
vicissitudes of real people, someone willing, as Michael Whouley, a
strategist for Gore, says, to "put himself out there."

Gore will say, "Have at it," taking questions for an hour or so. He stays
until the last person drifts away, fulfilled, his campaign hopes, by having
had the chance to mull their concerns -- from global warming to the human
genome project -- one on one with the vice president.

Questions from his audiences often go over the same ground, and Gore relies
on them to make his policy points.

For example, his answers to questions about health care now usually involve
a deconstruction of the health care proposal offered by Bradley, his only
rival for the Democratic nomination.

"My plan says let's insure all children," he says. "We'll get to 88 percent
of the American people and we'll put provisions in place that will help
others get access to health insurance." He says Bradley "gets just about
the same amount -- 89 percent instead of 88 percent -- but he spends three
times as much money and uses the entire surplus."

Sometimes he is asked about subjects that he never brings up on his own.
Recently in Claremont, N.H., he was asked for his position on the death
penalty. "I've always supported it," he replied, "because I think society
has a right to make careful judgments about when that ultimate penalty
ought to be applied."

He inevitably gets a question about leadership, which he often uses to
distance himself from President Clinton. In Concord, he was asked to
identify his "one weakness." He said that for a long time, he held his own
views in check because his role was to support President Clinton. "I think
it's a weakness as a presidential candidate and certainly would be as
president, if I didn't shed myself of that, which I have," he said. "What
you want to know is, what is my own spontaneous reaction to what comes up?
What is my judgment?"

But his advisers keep telling him that the most important thing he can do
is tell people "who he is." And so in his standard introduction, he talks
about his family, mainly his mother and father and their triumphs over
hardscrabble beginnings in the Tennessee hollows.

His mother was among the first women to graduate from Vanderbilt Law
School. His father was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Gore
artfully presents his parents' backgrounds to explain his fundamental goals.

"In honor of my mother, I pledge that the progress we've made in women's
rights in this century is only the beginning of what we will do in the next
century," he declares. "In honor of my father, I pledge that the progress
we've made in civil rights in this century will be only the beginning of
the progress we make in the next century."

But this could be treacherous ground for Gore. The sheer drama of his
parents' lives highlights the lack of overt struggle in his own, as the son
of a Senator growing up in a hotel in Washington. He almost never mentions
his elite education at St. Albans and Harvard. Instead he recalls the
chaotic touchstones of his generation -- the assassinations, Vietnam,

But he is rarely expansive about about what these events meant to him. "I
went to Vietnam," he said at a recent living room appearance in Keene. "And
I came back and I felt the pressures that were tearing our country apart. I
saw Watergate unfold. I just wanted nothing to do with politics," which he
says left him "disillusioned," especially after his father lost his Senate
seat in 1970.

For all of his personal references, his discussions often give only the
illusion of intimacy. This was most striking here at the high school when a
young woman asked him if he would ban cigarettes and marijuana.

He said he would ban marijuana but that it would not be "practical" to ban
cigarettes because so many people were addicted to them. He denounced
tobacco companies, but never mentioned that his older sister, Nancy, a
smoker since age 13, died of lung cancer in 1984.

In his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic National Convention, Gore
had talked extensively about his sister's death, describing their last
moments together. His speech was widely panned for seeming to exploit his
sister's death. Now he never mentions her at all.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake