Gore basking in Southern campaign role He bolsters effort as president tires

Campaign 1996

September 01, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Heading south, his accent thickening with each new mile, Tennessee native son Al Gore picked up the slack for a bone-tired Bill Clinton as the presidential bus caravan ended a two-day, post-convention swing that showcased the ability of the Democratic ticket to draw large, enthusiastic crowds even in the smallest backwoods towns.

Gore, whose typical shtick back in Washington is to poke fun at his reputation as a stiff public speaker, was the unexpected star of the stump on this trip.

The crowds greeted him enthusiastically. He and his wife, Tipper, played up their local roots and dropped the names of old friends and kinsmen they saw in the audiences.

More surprising was Gore's animation as he shouted, growled and laughed his way through an introduction to his boss that grew longer and more memorable at each stop.

"I want to leave you with one question I want you to think about," Gore said. "How would you like to wake up on the morning after the election? There are two choices: First of all, you could wake up Nov. 6 with a headache and look out the window and see a cold, sleet rain fallin' down and get out of bed and rub the sleep outta your eyes and stumble your way toward the front door, stub your toe on the chair, open the door and see that newspaper layin' there in a puddle o' water. When you pick it up, you can hardly read it, so you peel back the front page and it says: 'Dole Wins.' "

As the crowd boos and yells, "No, no," Gore breaks into an impish smile, holds up one finger and hollers: "Ah, wait a minute! There's another choice!

"You could wake up on the morning of November the 6th," he adds, "feeling goooood! With the sun shining through the window! Little birds chirping on that window sill! Fresh-cut flowers on the table by the bed. The aroma mixing with the scent of fresh-brewed coffee wafting in from the kitchen. You get up outta bed with your favorite music on the clock radio -- maybe the Macarena -- and you dance your way to the front door, fling it open with a flourish and pick up the headline and it says: 'Clinton, Gore Re-elected! The Democrats Win!' " as he is drowned out with cheers.

Clinton, by contrast, seemed to be worn down -- even before he began calling the shots on the Iraq crisis from his bus.

Drained by his five-day train trip before the convention, hoarse from his dozens of speeches, including four in Chicago in less than 36 hours and shaken by the abrupt resignation of Dick Morris, his most trusted strategist, the normally long-winded president seemed anxious to get to Air Force One.

At some stops, he spoke for less time than his warm-up speaker. Even before he left Chicago on Friday, Clinton told two audiences, almost apologetically, after a fiery Gore introduction that they had just heard from the half of the ticket that had been getting more sleep.

"Will you help me?" he wearily asked roadside crowds in Kentucky and Tennessee. "For 68 days, will you help us?"

The crowd roared its approval, but there were indications that the caravan wasn't in entirely friendly country.

Numerous signs registered opposition to the president's anti-smoking initiatives as the buses rolled by tobacco fields, and at one stop, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat, missed shaking hands with the crowd because he stood by a bus smoking a cigarette.

Late last night the president and his family were to get off the bus and fly to Arkansas for a day of rest before a rally tonight in Little Rock. Clinton is to visit Wisconsin on Labor Day, the traditional date for a formal campaign kickoff.

But a planned trip that night to Pittsburgh was canceled yesterday by a campaign that realized it was in danger of burning out its best asset -- and the asset's voice -- with more than nine weeks remaining in the showdown with Republicans Bob Dole and Jack Kemp.

"Pennsylvania might have been a bridge too far," said the White House press secretary, in a gentle spoof of the campaign's theme, 'Building a Bridge to the 21st Century."

Still, as tired as he was, Clinton's skill as a campaigner was evident both days on the buses. Beginning in Cape Giradeau, Mo., and ending here, Clinton spoke at more than a dozen campaign stops.

At each stop, he dutifully worked the rope line, shaking hundreds of hands at each stop, squeezing babies, patting children on the head while conversing with their parents.

In Troy, Tenn., Clinton spoke to a 101-year-old woman who told him that she'd never missed an election but that Clinton was the first president she'd ever met.

"It's high time," Clinton responded. The woman then leaned over and kissed the president, who told the crowd: "And I can tell you, she may be 101, but she still kisses real good. I appreciate that. I thank her."

The little exchange showed that no matter how well Gore does on the stump, he's still only the vice president -- and he's still Al Gore.

If Gore needed any reminder, the interview schedule put him in his place. Campaign aides scheduled the president with MTV's Tabitha Soren. Gore drew CNN's always-serious Wolf Blitzer.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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