The new Gore: It's the little people who count

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The Independent US

As Democrats geared up for tonight's ceremonial opening of their national convention in Los Angeles, Al Gore and his campaign team set out to trumpet their own unequivocal message across the land and drown out any competing voices. That message, emblazoned across newspapers and saturating yesterday's television news shows, was that the Vice-President is his own man, a President in waiting, with his own programme, his own values.

As Democrats geared up for tonight's ceremonial opening of their national convention in Los Angeles, Al Gore and his campaign team set out to trumpet their own unequivocal message across the land and drown out any competing voices. That message, emblazoned across newspapers and saturating yesterday's television news shows, was that the Vice-President is his own man, a President in waiting, with his own programme, his own values.

In an interview with the New York Times, Mr Gore said he would use his speech on Thursday night, accepting his party's nomination for the White House, to say: "I'm running on my own agenda, on my own voice and through my own experiences." The only part of President Clinton's legacy he would embrace, he indicated, would be the flourishing economy, which has brought the United States the longest continuous period of growth in its history.

In implied criticism of his Republican opponent, George W Bush, Mr Gore said he would stuff his speech with policy specifics - on healthcare, education and the environment among others - and would follow up the convention with a series of "town meetings" around the country. Such meetings, he said, would then become a major feature of his presidency: consulting ordinary people about major areas of policy.

Mr Gore said his decision to speak in detail was a gamble because "the modern trend has been to resort to the vaguest of generalities and not to challenge the audience with specifics and hard substance", but - he said - he did not go along with that. The move to concentrate on substance rather than style seemed intended to make the best of his reputation for seriousness and compensate for any lack of personal charisma.

New polls released yesterday showed just how much ground he needs to make up this week. While the choice of Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate appeared to add a couple of percentage points to his ratings, he still trails Mr Bush by between nine and 14 points.

Differentiating himself from Mr Clinton's legacy figures prominently in what Mr Gore's aides believe he has to do. Perhaps to that end, the Vice-President insisted yesterday that he wanted not merely to continue the economic success of the past eight years, but enhance it. He said: "I will make a new start to include those who have not yet fully enjoyed the benefits of the progress we have made and upon which I can launch this new effort to connect the American people to the full spirit of our democracy - the open meetings."

Neither Mr Gore nor Mr Lieberman has yet arrived in Los Angeles. Convention has it that the nominee keeps his distance until the delegates are fully primed to hail him as conquering hero on the final day. Like Mr Bush in the first days of the Republican convention, Mr Gore is making a slow, but high-profile journey across the country, highlighting some of his favourite causes. He started his weekend in Pennsylvania - coincidentally an important "swing" state - where he visited the birthplace of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, a pioneering book about the environment.

Yesterday's publicity barrage, however, also appeared to be a determined attempt by Mr Gore's camp to take back the publicity initiative and counter the razzmatazz surrounding the presence of President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, in Los Angeles over the weekend. Both Clintons will address the convention tonight, Mr Clinton making his farewell to the party for which he reclaimed the White House eight years ago, the party that stood by him through the Lewinsky affair, and which still lionises him.

Two glitzy fund-raisers - a party with Hollywood's finest and a brunch at the home of Barbra Streisand - were said to have raised hackles in the Gore camp, not just because they could divert money from big donors.

In several comments over the weekend, Mrs Clinton sought to allay fears that she and her husband were diverting money and attention from Mr Gore. "We're going to be staying out of sight. Really," she told reporters.

Mr Clinton cancelled a series of interviews he had planned with national news media over the weekend and decided to play golf instead. His valedictory speech to the party tonight, however, is keenly awaited by the party faithful, and it is only after that and after the Clintons leave the city that Mr Gore will have a real chance to come into his own.

Meanwhile, the Gore camp was trying to place as much distance as possible between their man and the Clintons. As the Clintons consorted with the Hollywood glitterati, Mr Gore's running mate was decrying the decadent and immoral tone of the entertainment industry. And as Bill and Hillary ate brunch with Barbra Streisand and others in the breeze-cooled hills, the Vice-President's wife, Tipper, and two of his three daughters, Karenna and Kristin, were visiting youth projects and a hospital in the stifling heat of the inner city.

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