WASHINGTON -- If Bill Clinton were looking for a running mate like himself, he probably couldn't have come much closer than the man he chose yesterday, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.
Not only are they both Baptists and nearly the same age -- Mr. Clinton is a year older at 45 -- they resemble each other in background, ambition and politics.
Both were exemplary students who early in life set high goals and wound up with Ivy League degrees. Both are policy "nerds" who can speak in depth on a variety of subjects that others might find too technical, if not boring.
And, like Mr. Clinton, Mr. Gore wants to be president. He lost a race for the Democratic nomination in 1988. Still interested in the White House, he nevertheless didn't run this year because he said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
Mr. Gore also shares Mr. Clinton's inclination to straddle the differences between the liberal and more conservative branches the Democratic Party.
In his 1988 presidential bid, Mr. Gore called himself a "raging moderate," more liberal on social issues than on military matters. He kept up the image by being one of a relatively few Democrats to support President Bush on going to war in the Persian Gulf -- Mr. Clinton was another -- while earning steadily higher marks from liberal groups on domestic legislation.
The liberal Americans for Democratic Action gave him a 75 percent rating in 1991, meaning he voted their way three-quarters of the time. The average rating for Senate Democrats was 67 percent; for the Senate as a whole, 47 percent. Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee, received a 50 percent mark.
On abortion, Mr. Gore meets Mr. Clinton's requirement of supporting abortion rights by being a co-sponsor of the Freedom of Choice Act. But he has supported parental notice requirements with a caveat that a girl be permitted to bypass them by petitioning a judge. And he has voted against federal funding for abortion.
Mr. Gore's career mirrors Mr. Clinton's in some ways. Both are lawyers, Mr. Gore having obtained a law degree from Vanderbilt University after graduating from Harvard College; he attended divinity school without obtaining a degree. Each ran for office before he was 30, Mr. Gore winning a congressional seat and Mr. Clinton becoming Arkansas attorney general.
Mr. Gore has gone on to distinguish himself in the Senate, to which he was elected in 1984 and 1990, as a specialist on arms control and global environmental issues.
The League of Conservation Voters applauded the selection of Mr. Gore, praising his leadership in dealing with ozone depletion in the atmosphere and global warming. He has co-sponsored legislation to increase fuel efficiency standards and is the author of an environmental book, "Earth in the Balance."
Those who know Mr. Gore are not surprised by his success. He comes from political stock: His father was a senator from Tennessee who was considered a vice presidential prospect himself in the 1950s.
Mr. Gore served in the Vietnam War, as an Army journalist in the 20th Engineer Brigade, despite the strong anti-war feelings he shared with his father. From 1971 until 1976, when he decided to run for Congress, Mr. Gore was an investigative reporter and editorial writer at the Tennessean in Nashville.
Mr. Gore has three daughters and a son, Albert Gore III, who was critically injured in 1989 when he was hit by a car outside Memorial Stadium while he and his father were leaving an Orioles game.
The youngster recovered at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and was among those on the platform yesterday with his father in Little Rock, Ark., at the announcement of his selection by Mr. Clinton.
His serious-minded reputation is reinforced by a rather stiff speaking style, but his friends find him "very warm and engaging," insists Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Nathan Landow, a prominent fund-raiser who backed Mr. Gore's 1988 presidential campaign.
In a 1988 interview, David Frost tried to break through Mr. Gore's privacy barrier, once asking him to confirm whether one of his "great achievements in school was being able to lie on the floor and balance a billiard cue on your nose."
"I did have that talent, and I do have that talent," Mr. Gore said.
The closest Mr. Gore has come to personal controversy was in 1987 when he admitted having used marijuana at Harvard, "once or twice" while off duty during service in Vietnam, while a law student at Vanderbilt and while a reporter in Nashville. But he said he hadn't used it past age 24.