Sunday, October 10, 1999

Time to rethink 'reinvented' Gore


His campaign seems short on fresh ideas

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOUISVILLE — Just down Taylor Boulevard from the Teamster's hall that Vice President Al Gore visited Thursday night is a strip club called Deva Ju.

        For a moment after arriving, Mr. Gore appeared as if he was at the wrong place, that instead of stumping he was ready for some stripping.

        With the mostly male audience standing and a brass band blasting “Rocky Top,” Mr. Gore bounded on the stage, whipped off his — what else? — dark suit coat, loosened his tie, rolled up his sleeves and headed into the audience, looking like he was ready to deliver a quick lap dance.

        If this is the “reinvention” of Al Gore we've heard so much about over the last two weeks, it's time to try something else.

        Because when the candidate starts imitating Elizabeth Dole, who imitates talk show hosts with her move-through-the-audience speaking style at political events, there is something seriously wrong in the originality department of the Gore campaign.

        The Gore camp hasn't hit the panic button just yet, but it is close.

        With Bill Bradley gaining in the race for the Democratic nomination and George W. Bush showing political skills his father lacked, Mr. Gore is fighting to create some enthusiasm and passion for a campaign that has so far lacked both.

        He shook up his political staff and moved the campaign headquarters from Washington to his home state of Tennessee, prompting lots of stories from national political writers about the new Al Gore.

        Here is how Knight Ridder News Service viewed Mr. Gore's campaign trail metamorphosis:

        “Coming amid a slew of changes intended to jumpstart a lackluster campaign, it is not clear whether the appearance of a retooled Gore is a new sales pitch, the emergence of the real Gore or a bit of both. Even Gore, who formerly poked fun at his own seeming lifelessness, now touts the new Gore.”

        Mr. Gore is also trying to shed his image as a stiff, evidenced by the whooping, hollering and mild cursing he performed Thursday while trying to win the support of the blue-collar union crowd he spoke to here.

        “I need your help, I need your support, I need your votes,” Mr. Gore yelled as the crowd cheered. “Work like hell to organize so we can win.”

        The “stiff” label will be hard to shed, but if Mr. Gore does begin to breathe some life into his image, that can only help him among Democratic voters.

        Ever get a load of a speech or television interview from Mr. Bradley? Talk about rigid and dull. He's as dry as a Boone County corn field in August. Mr. Gore should be able to boost his campaign and image by trying to be more lively as voters get better acquainted with Mr. Bradley, a bookish policy wonk if there ever was one.

        Still, Mr. Gore could put on a chicken suit and set himself on fire and he's still going to wilt when up against the sheer magnetism of Mr. Bush.

        There hasn't been a politician as good at connecting with people, as adept at seizing an opportunity, as charming in one-on-one situations, at spinning an issue as — okay all you Republicans, everybody cringe at once — Bill Clinton.

        It's fairly obvious that Mr. Bush has taken not just a page but a whole bunch of chapters out of Mr. Clinton's book when it comes to campaigning, politicking and moving firmly to the center on selected issues and policy.

        Witness how aggressive Mr. Bush was two weeks ago, when he chided some Republicans in Congress for wanting to cut the earned income tax credit for low income Americans.

        Well, the polling over that move must have been off the chart because Mr. Bush was back on the Republican-controlled Congress again last week, claiming they don't understand the plight of most Americans and are cold and distant on economic issues.

        Congressional Republicans are an easy target, even for a GOP presidential candidate. Don't forget, Mr. Clinton was able to win a second term in the White House in big part because of the negative approval ratings put up by Newt Gingrich and the rest of Congress.

        Who would have guessed that it would be Mr. Bush and not Mr. Gore — who spent eight years literally at the president's side — seizing the political lessons Mr. Clinton taught us and using them to emerge as the front runner for his party's nomination?

        Mr. Gore may as well continue stripping, acting like Oprah and cursing like a longshoreman. Because nothing else seems to be working.

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. His column appears Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 578-5581, or (502) 875-7526 in Frankfort, or by e-mail at crowleys@cinci.infi.net