The US Presidential Elections: Clinton goes for a tailor's dummy with bright ideas

WHEN Albert Gore ran for president in 1988 the press corps joke was that the handsome but wooden-looking senator was indistinguishable from his bodyguards. Those who know him better say the tailor's dummy exterior hides a thoughtful, even a humorous man and, most unusually, a politician interested in ideas for their own sake.

Al Gore is both a conventional choice for presidential running mate - young, white, nationally known, with Washington experience - and a convention-defying one. This will be the first time a US presidential ticket has had two politicians from the South this century. In a year when everyone, even President George Bush, is trying to run as an outsider, Mr Gore, 44, is a career politician from a family in which politics is the family business. He was born in Washington. His father, Al Gore Sr, was like his son after him the Democratic Senator from Tennessee.

Bill Clinton, the Democratic candidate, has defied the traditional geometry of presidential ticket-building in yet another way. By choosing another centrist he risks the wrath - or more significantly the low enthusiasm level - of the party's core constituencies of the left. The Rev Jesse Jackson said the choice of Mr Gore made a 'fairly narrow ticket' and questioned whether two Southerners could inspire labour support.

The Clinton camp evidently calculates that the left has nowhere else to go anyway and that whether the independent candidacy of Ross Perot fades or not the election in November will be won and lost in the centre. By choosing another young, bright, moderate politician Mr Clinton is hoping to convert the revulsion against politics-as-usual in Washington into a desire for generational change. Two southerners on the ticket also give the Democrats serious hopes of winning states in the South for the first time in 16 years (especially if Mr Perot takes a bloc of moderate-to-conservative white, southern votes from Mr Bush).

Mr Gore has made a name for himself in the Senate as a lucid and thoughtful campaigner on environmental, scientific and disarmament issues. His book on eco-politics, The Earth in the Balance, is on the New York Times list of bestsellers. He has been a leading campaigner for tougher US policies on global warming and control of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). This should go down well with younger voters (in theory at any rate) especially in eco-conscious areas like California and the Pacific North-west (where Mr Gore is well-known and popular).

In other respects Senator Gore is a traditional moderate, southern Democrat: hawkish on foreign policy, liberal on domestic policy. He has always championed the need for a strong defence, voting for the Gulf war and non-military Contra aid. He is a thoughtful speaker in interviews but no great orator. It is said of him that he talks in perfect but rather stilted paragaphs. (This in the age of Mr Bush and Dan Quayle is something.) Senator Gore served as an army journalist in combat zones in Vietnam. He has admitted to smoking marijuana while at Harvard. So has his wife, Mary Elizabeth Gore, always known by her childhood nickname of Tipper. Mrs Gore, with Susan Baker, wife of the Secretary of State, James Baker, is a somewhat humourless activist against sex, race and violence in rock lyrics.

The Gores have four children. The youngest, Al Gore III, was seriously injured in a car accident in 1989. Senator Gore gave the need to spend more time with his recovering son as his reason for not running for the presidency. The more likely reason was that it did not seem that President Bush was beatable at the time.

(Photograph omitted)