Al Gore will never win a personality contest, so he must set out his policies

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The Independent Online

Earlier this year Al Gore let it be known that, when he finds himself in a bit of a tight spot, he asks himself "What would Jesus do?" Between now and presidential polling day on 7 November, the signs are that the Vice-President of the United States may well find himself looking for divine guidance rather more often than he would like.

Earlier this year Al Gore let it be known that, when he finds himself in a bit of a tight spot, he asks himself "What would Jesus do?" Between now and presidential polling day on 7 November, the signs are that the Vice-President of the United States may well find himself looking for divine guidance rather more often than he would like.

For a start, the Democratic convention in Los Angeles looks like turning out to be a far less satisfactory springboard than George W Bush's show in Philadelphia, with its warm theme of compassionate conservatism and images of multi-cultural harmony. LA is an unfortunate choice, as its most famous district, Hollywood, is not a natural Gore constituency - and still less so since he chose as his running mate Senator Joseph Lieberman, who has conducted a moral crusade against the corrupting influences of Tinseltown.

Predictably, everyone from Barbra Streisand to John Travolta has come out to raise funds for Hillary Clinton's senatorial campaign in New York and for the Clinton Presidential Library in Arkansas - perhaps $14m in all. Mr Gore will be lucky to raise $2.5m from that constituency. And if all that were not enough, some 50,000 protesters against globalisation will be doing their best to spoil Mr Gore's party. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for the man.

Despite his inheriting the Democratic party machine, history too is against Mr Gore. Many VPs have gone on to become president, sometimes, as did Harry S Truman and Teddy Roosevelt, with great distinction. But this is mostly by dint of the death of a president in office or a subsequent opportunity presenting itself. In fact, when George Bush Senior successfully took over from Ronald Reagan by winning the 1988 presidential election, it was the first time that such a feat had been achieved since Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson by winning the election of 1836.

One reason for the rarity of such easy successions is that it is inherently difficult for even the most gifted politician to sell the package "continuity and change" that is the Vice-President's usual lot. Given this, and given that he is losing the personality battle, Mr Gore's best hope lies in policy, something he has shown an aptitude for, and on which he is likely to shine in the forthcoming televised debates.

Mr Gore is sound on the environment, where Mr Bush has a poor record as governor of Texas. Mr Gore can speak convincingly about "the economy, stupid", and about how the new technology has brought a "new paradigm" of high growth and low inflation in its wake.

In an echo of British politics, Mr Gore can stress to the American public how his priorities lie in improving public services such as education rather than in cutting taxes. Gun control, too, may finally have become a vote-winning issue for the Democrats. And he could show strength as well as "doing the right thing" by facing down the opponents of free trade in hisown party. He must do all these things, with all the passion he can naturally muster,in his speech this week.

Mr Gore is not bad on the stump, and with a decent "bounce" from the convention he should at least give Mr Bush a run for his money. But if he is to win promotion to the White House, he must tell America clearly what it is that Al, rather than Jesus, would do.

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