Relaxed and spontaneous Gore starts her big campaign

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The Independent Online
HILLARY CLINTON'S would-be successor as First Lady, Tipper Gore, steps into the limelight today, presiding at her very own event: a White House conference on mental health.

Mrs Gore, who recently disclosed that she had been successfully treated in the past for depression, has made mental illness one of her areas of special expertise and holds the title of special adviser to the President on mental health. Today's event, however, has been preceded by the sort of media attention - the President's weekend radio broadcast, long, searching newspaper articles about the neglect of mental illness in the US, a battery of profiles and short interviews with Mrs Gore - that bespeaks a political campaign.

Mary Elizabeth `Tipper' Gore - she was dubbed Tipper by her mother and the name seems as acceptable to Americans as it may seem incomprehensible and frivolous elsewhere - is up and running for First Lady and an identifiable cause is a useful way to start carving a niche for herself that augments, but does not eclipse, her husband's campaign for the White House.

In fact, Mrs Gore already exhibits political skills that are superior in some ways to those of her husband. She appears relaxed in public and at the microphone, comfortable at political gatherings large and small. She is articulate, and she can ad lib.

She will dress up or down according to the occasion - from blue suit at the women's rally for her husband last week to jeans in a recent family photograph, to T-shirt and shorts for a charity run this weekend - and look as though she chose to dress this way rather than being advised by Bill Clinton (as her husband was recently) to dress down more often. At the start of the year, as thoughts turned to the next presidential campaign, Mrs Gore's spontaneity was pressed into political service on her husband's behalf. His advisers noted that she could make him loosen up, even laugh a little, and fill in his awkward silences at the microphone.

Their joint appearances had the additional advantage of showing them as a contented couple, an illustration of the `family values' that Mr Gore is seeking to make prominent in his campaign pitch: as well as their son, Albert III, who is still at school, the Gores have three adult daughters, the eldest of whom is expecting their first grandchild this year.

Even campaign-hardened Americans, though, can have too much of a good thing. In recent weeks, Al and Tipper's formal appearances together have been scaled back, perhaps because she was starting, in the nicest possible way,to put him in the shade. Appearing separately or at her husband's side, however, Mrs Gore, 50, is an undoubted campaign asset for him.

As a full-time wife and mother, with a history of charity work, she comes across as warm and human - a younger Barbara Bush, perhaps, epitomising much of what conservative Americans still believe a First Lady should be: a `cookie-baking lady bountiful'.