Gore's dilemma: Appear loyal, but avoid touch of scandal Vice president speaks up for Clinton, but keeps out of the thick of fight


WASHINGTON -- Vice President Al Gore stood before television cameras on Wednesday and forcefully defended President Clinton. "He is the president of the country; he is also my friend," Gore said in introducing the president at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. "And I want to ask you now, every single one of you, to join me in supporting him and standing by his side."

But yesterday, in an event at the Genentech protein laboratory in South San Francisco, Calif., the vice president stuck to the usual script and made no special effort to speak out -- or up -- for the beleaguered commander in chief.

Unquestionably, Gore and Clinton are devoted friends who look out for each other personally and politically.

Yet the contrast between the two days underscores the dilemma PTC that confronts Gore. He cannot afford to appear anything but 100 percent loyal. But Gore's advisers acknowledge that they have made several calculations to make sure that the scandal does not spill onto the vice president: They have instructed aides to keep out of speeches the vice president's frequent laugh line about how, because of a glitch during Clinton's swearing-in ceremony last January, there was actually a "Gore administration" for five minutes.

Gore's advisers said they delayed the official start of a political action committee -- a vehicle to win support for his presidential hopes by helping other Democrats this year -- in part out of fear that it might leave an impression that he was moving too quickly.

"He was ready to crank out the PAC," said a leading Democrat who speaks with Gore regularly. "It's been put on hold. Everybody just stopped."

A White House official said, "They're slow-walking it."

And Gore aides, not wanting the vice president to be too prominent in Tuesday night's television coverage of the scandal and the president's State of the Union address, decided not to put him before the cameras after Clinton's speech. "There was just so much going on," one official said, adding that the decision was that "it wasn't worth it."

Even Gore's introductions of the president in Champaign, Ill., and La Crosse, Wis., on Wednesday were carefully calibrated. While Gore vigorously asked the audiences to stand by the president, he did not mention the scandal directly. By that approach he sought to appear loyal without being drawn into the crisis.

The vice president has not added any new events to speak out on behalf of Clinton. But Gore has used previously scheduled stops -- like his appearances with the president Wednesday in the Midwest -- to lend his energetic support. But yesterday, it was back to his pre-planned schedule, with no special mentions of Clinton.

Robert Squier, Gore's longtime media consultant, said, "What he is trying to do under these tough circumstances is to keep his eyes straight ahead, doing the job the president assigned him and helping him through this any way he can."

Asked why the vice president did not appear on network television programs Sunday to defend the president, as White House aides did, Squier said it was inappropriate for Gore to discuss details of the allegations. "It just didn't seem appropriate that he's the best guy to do that," Squier said. "You don't have the vice president going out and basically doing Sunday shows on a story like that."

Pub Date: 1/30/98

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