Struggling Gore rails at 'rusty' Bush

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The Independent US

Al Gore, the undisputed underdog in the presidential race, came out swinging as the fight for the White House began in earnest. He described the Republicans as being "for the powerful" and his party as one "for the people", while setting his campaign sharply against the plutocratic George W Bush.

Al Gore, the undisputed underdog in the presidential race, came out swinging as the fight for the White House began in earnest. He described the Republicans as being "for the powerful" and his party as one "for the people", while setting his campaign sharply against the plutocratic George W Bush.

The Democratic candidate is behind in the polls after the Republican party convention, and his opponent, Mr Bush, has pre-empted many of his party's moves, stealing their thunder.

In the UK, the possibility of a Republican victory in November spurred Tony Blair to order top-level contacts between Downing Street and Mr Bush's campaign. The Foreign Office stressed the need for a communications channel with the Republicans, which, according to a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, was "already in hand".

Hoping to snatch some of the headlines from Mr Bush, Mr Gore will decide this weekend on his vice-presidential running mate. The formal announcement is due on Tuesday. As yet there appear few inspiring figures. The top contenders seem to be Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina, Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Evan Bayh of Indiana. Mr Kerry may have some shadows lurking in his past that could complicate matters, while Mr Lieberman is known as a forthright character who was one of the first Democrats to take on Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair. None of them is exactly exciting but Mr Gore has tried to create a sense of mystery by saying that he has a "wild card" candidate to play. His shortlist includes "six, plus an out-of-the-box possibility".

The choice will be important, short term. Mr Gore has hinted that he will pick a younger person, unlike Mr Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, a grizzled political veteran.

In the past two days, Mr Gore has also appeared before three labour groups - firefighters, postal workers and the police - seeking to buttress his appeal to his core constituency. He accentuated the "key differences" with the Republicans. Besides pushing his "people's party" he mocked his rivals' pyrotechnics. "Behind the flashing video wall is an agenda of rising gas prices and smog-filled skies that is of Big Oil, by Big Oil, and for Big Oil." Mr Bush represented "the faded days and rusted ways of the old guard". He told the firefighters he knew he was the underdog, but this was "day one of the fight for working families, and with your help we are going to win".

The Democratic convention opens on 14 August in Los Angeles, and Mr Gore will hope he can generate his own "bounce" to take him through to Labour Day at the start of September. Whoever is ahead then will be the most likely election victor.

Meanwhile, the British government is said to be anxious that Mr Blair's close alliance with Bill Clinton could leave him isolated in a Bush victory; the Conservatives and the Republicans have maintained close ties over the years.

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