Clinton and Gore clash on election `spin'

VICE-PRESIDENT Al Gore flew back from a two-day campaign trip to Iowa yesterday into a new controversy. In Iowa, Mr Gore had given what was billed as the first main policy speech of his presidential campaign, an end-of-term disquisition on education at Graceland College, a small private college in the south of the state.

But Mr Gore's calls for a return to old-fashioned educational values, a pledge of a $10,000 (pounds 6,250) sign-on fee and higher pay for teachers, "second-chance" education for school failures and "e-tutors" on the Internet were eclipsed by charges and counter-charges hurled in Washington. Mr Gore returned to a Newsweek cover story about "TeamGore", questioning his tactics and ability.

Mr Gore, challenged about opinion polls that show him more than a dozen points behind the Republican front- runner, George W Bush, told Newsweek: "I do not pay too much attention to the political analyses in the press on who's up and who's down... The campaign really hasn't started yet."

But in Washington, as in Iowa and New Hampshire where the first candidates' caucuses and primary elections will be held next February, the campaign has begun with a vengeance, and Al Gore is not exactly off to a convincing start.The trouble began last week when The New York Times tried to check a report that President Bill Clinton was concerned about Mr Gore's campaign and was offering his famously "wooden" deputy friendly advice, along the lines of "loosen up, leave the blue suit at home sometimes, get out and about more".

The White House effectively confirmed this, then Mr Clinton phoned the New York Times correspondent, trying to "spin" the story and make it less damaging to the Vice-President. Mr Clinton said the campaign eight weeks before had worried him, but now it was on track, and he was convinced his Vice-President could win. Next day, the paper ran the story headlined: "Clinton admits to concerns as Gore campaign stumbles".

Members of the Gore camp then told The Washington Post that Mr Gore was "furious" about the President's spin- doctoring. In the Newsweek interview he was asked: "Do you and the President discuss the campaign?"

"For seven years now I have always avoided commenting on any advice that I have given him, and I'm certainly not going to comment on advice that he has given me."

"Well, he's putting his advice on the front page of The New York Times.'

"If he did not advise me to loosen up, he would be the only person in the United States of America who didn't."

"What role do you envision the President playing in your campaign?"

"He's got a full-time job being President and he's doing it extremely well."

The clipped tartness of the third answer was interpreted as a put-down to Mr Clinton, suggesting Mr Gore would prefer the President to keep his distance. In the world of American campaigning, such a spat is designed to allow Al Gore to emerge from Bill Clinton's shadow.

The drawback is that the public and pundits see it as yet another mis- step by the Vice-President that could deprive him of one of his biggest assets: Bill Clinton's unerring political sensitivity.

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