Leading Article: Mr Gore may be dull, wooden - and a winner

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The Independent Culture
WITH AL Gore's official announcement that he will seek the Democratic nomination to run for President of the United States, the long campaign to choose Bill Clinton's successor is up and running. His principal opponent on the Republican side, George W Bush, opened his campaign last Friday in Iowa, where the first delegates will be chosen in the state caucus next February.

Mr Gore's first challenge is to defeat Senator Bill Bradley in his party's primaries before taking on the Republican candidate in the November 2000 election. It will be tough. Yesterday's polls declared that 45 per cent of all Americans say they definitely will not vote for Al Gore, no matter who the Republicans choose to put up against him (the comparable figure for Mr Bush was only 27 per cent).

It is hard to say why Mr Gore is so unpopular. He has a long record of public service and is a competent legislator in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and an effective Vice-President. He and his wife Tipper have been a familiar part of the American political scene for a generation. No one doubts his sincere and knowledgeable commitment to the environment, and his saccharine emphasis on family values rings true in a way that only gains credibility by comparison with his President. Gore's defect seems to be his verbal clumsiness, recently in evidence in his claim to have "invented the Internet", when he merely meant to trumpet his early support for the wired society.

The Mr Nice Guy image may work against Gore, too; for all his accomplishment, his loving family and his handsome, if wooden, looks, he doesn't stir the blood. If Bill Clinton is the lovable bad boy and George W Bush the reformed playboy, Mr Gore is the hated teacher's pet, too starched ever to get down and dirty. But, in fact, observers of his famous CNN debate with Ross Perot over Nafta (North American Free Trade Agreement) saw another Gore, one not afraid to mix innuendo with the best of them. That tough side was also evident in his damning of his President's morals.

Bush has had an easy ride so far, content to talk of his "compassionate conservatism" and yet to take a specific stand on any of the issues that will define the election. But when the detail comes up, Gore's vast experience will count. The tortoise may yet give the hare a good race.