Rattled Gore raises prospect of Bush 'nightmare'

Democratic candidate resorts to shock tactics to win over wavering voters in his home state - and admits that defeat is a possibility
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The Independent US

The music pulsates, the crowd waves placards, cheers and stomps. Vice-President Al Gore, his wife, his running- mate and his running-mate's wife stride on to the stage at the Wildhorse Saloon, voted "America's top nightspot" last year, to rally their troops for the last big push of a long, long campaign.

The music pulsates, the crowd waves placards, cheers and stomps. Vice-President Al Gore, his wife, his running- mate and his running-mate's wife stride on to the stage at the Wildhorse Saloon, voted "America's top nightspot" last year, to rally their troops for the last big push of a long, long campaign.

It is a raucous but strangely perfunctory fund-raiser (Rosie O'Donnell never turned up) and the audience, having paid upwards of $100 each, has just heard Billy Ray Cyrus serenading the guest of honour: "When your friends turn away, when you've given yourself and it seems like you can't make it through - you just stand ..."

Mr Gore hardly lightens the mood: "You wake up on 8 November," he says in words essayed at his pep-talk to campaign staff and volunteers two hours earlier, "and you feel terrible. It's cold and grey outside; it's drizzling rain mixed with sleet. You get out of bed and stub your toe. Ouch.

"You stumble to the door and pick up your newspaper. It's all wet, but you can just make out the front page. It says: 'Bush-Cheney win'."

Thus does Al Gore try to shock the last wavering voters into his Democratic camp as he reaches the final two weeks of a contest that is the culmination of his lifetime in politics. "It's up to YOU," he yells to the ranks of cheering supporters. "You have a choice!" And he invokes the bright, sunny morning, with the birds chirruping and the wafting aroma of fresh coffee that would herald the alternative: "Gore-Lieberman win."

"The momentum is with us," Mr Gore says, citing the most recent polls. But in broaching his ultimate nightmare in these last critical days, he is also breaking the cardinal rule of campaigning: never, ever even conceive of defeat.

Mr Gore and his entourage - his wife, mother, brother-in-law and campaign manager - have just spent the best part of 24 hours in his home state of Tennessee, which is pretty much the last place any of them expected to be out campaigning at this stage in the contest. The state ought to be secure for Mr Gore, yet no one in his camp even tries to conceal any more that he is in serious danger of losing here.

If he did fail to carry Tennessee, he would be the first presidential candidate since George McGovern 28 years ago to lose his home state.

In an election that is the closest for 40 years, such a loss would not only be embarrassing, it could lose Mr Gore the election, which is why the Gores and the Liebermans cleared their diaries from Tuesday afternoon to exhort, cajole, solicit and schmooze anyone who could possibly be persuaded to vote Democrat.

As Mr Gore reminded his audiences, the margin of Kennedy's victory in 1960 was equivalent to one vote per precinct; hence the desperate urgency, for both candidates, of getting their vote out.

While support for Mr Gore's opponent, George W Bush, seems energised and focused, Mr Gore's seems just slightly downbeat. One of the people who helped organise the Wildhorse Saloon party said, on condition of anonymity, that it had not been that easy and that there was certainly space for more people. Some of those attending also muttered about the lateness and sparseness of the live entertainment.

In contrast, Mr Bush had dropped in on eastern Tennessee that morning and drawn more than 1,000 to a town hall meeting announced just 24 hours before. There were so many people that proceedings had to be broadcast outside. Mr Bush, though, has his own surprises to deal with. He was en route to the state that could be his nemesis: Florida - where his brother is governor and which could prove to be his own "Tennessee".

Meanwhile, in the real Tennessee there are signs of confidence in the Bush camp. On election night, America's "top nightspot", with life-size horses strung upside down from the rafters - has been hired for the Republicans' party.

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