Gore bids to reinvent himself in LA

After many changes of clothes, style and beliefs, the Vice-President must finally find an image that resonates with American voters
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The Independent US

When George W Bush took to the stage at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia to convince Americans of his presidential potential, he passed the test with flying colours and his poll ratings duly soared.

When George W Bush took to the stage at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia to convince Americans of his presidential potential, he passed the test with flying colours and his poll ratings duly soared.

Al Gore may need no such national introduction, but as he prepares to go before the Democratic Party faithful in Los Angeles next week, nothing less than the sum total of his political life will depend on his ability to present himself anew as a compelling, coherent and attractive candidate. That he will succeed is far from certain

His electoral weakness is the polar opposite of Mr Bush's. The American public knows a great deal about him, perhaps too much. "Will the real Al Gore stand up?" has been a leitmotif of the critiques of the Vice-President's White House bid since he announced his candidacy more than a year ago. It has worried rank and file Democrats and prompted a barb from Mr Bush in his own convention speech last week.

Mr Gore's top team was in flux until the arrival of the former commerce secretary, William Daley, six weeks ago, casting doubt on his ability to identify, recruit and keep effective lieutenants. He has changed his garb almost by the week: from presidential to casual to sporty and back this week to presidential-casual (shirtsleeves and tie). His accent veers from exaggerated southern to clipped prep-school northern, not just according to whether he is in his home state of Tennessee, but to match the social class of his audience.

Despite flashes of spontaneity and passion and months on the campaign trail, his appearances often lack conviction even now. It is not just the "stiffness" in his manner but the impression he gives that he is acting and trying too hard. Photogenic, he seems locked into an eternal series of camera poses.

With his eldest daughter, Karenna, and now with his running mate Joe Lieberman, Mr Gore has shown that he could start to loosen up. But unless he drops his artificiality, it will be hard for him to appear as sincere as Mr Bush.

Mr Gore's record also lacks consistency, leaving a reputation for spinelessness and "pandering" to the favoured constituency of the moment. As a Congressman from Tennessee, he abandoned his anti-abortion and pro-gun stances as he prepared to seek national office in a Democratic Party more northern than southern in character. From those U-turns to his public call earlier this year for the Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, to remain in the United States, Mr Gore has given the impression of placing expedience before principle.

His ruthless hatchet-job on the mild-mannered Bill Bradley, his rival for the Democratic nomination in the primaries, also left an ambiguous impression on voters. While the Vice-President emerged as a fighter, he also looked as though he would employ even the basest of tactics to win.

The pre-convention week was good for Mr Gore - one of the best of his campaign so far. The reception for his choice of Joe Lieberman as his running mate was enthusiastic, save for a quickly dispatched row in the black community: unalloyed, Mr Gore was praised for naming an Orthodox Jew on his ticket and his party claimed credit for acting out the "inclusiveness" of which the Republicans had only boasted.

On Thursday, Mr Clinton made his contribution by uttering yet another public apology for his moral lapse in the White House and pleading that his sins should not be visited on his Vice-President. "Surely no fairminded person would blame him in any way for any mistake that I made," he said. Yesterday, Mr Gore rushed to Detroit to accept the endorsement of the United Auto Workers. This major union, which he had courted in vain for months, had finally abandoned its threat to stay neutral and come into the fold.

Perhaps, finally, the pieces of his campaign are falling into place - just in time for the sprint to the finish. But few outside his immediate team are betting on it. Even MrLieberman is hedging his bets: he is not resigning his Senate seat just yet.