Safe Yet Adventurous Selection In Al Gore

Posted: July 10, 1992

In selecting Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee to be his running mate, Bill Clinton has confounded one American political tradition while reaffirming another.

Picking someone of the same age, sex, political philosophy, Ivy League education and region goes directly against the presumption that a vice presidential candidate should balance a ticket by bringing to it a different constituency.

But there's another political maxim that, especially in 1992, may be more instrumental in deciding the outcome: Don't get hurt in selecting a running mate.

Gore doesn't hurt.

And his addition to the Clinton ticket underlines a strategy by which the Democrats may not so much win the White House as manage not to lose it again.

If, as seems likely, President Bush and Ross Perot go at each other like Texans waging a range war, Clinton could cling to votes to win.

To do so, however, Clinton must not get hurt.

And in some ways he directly helps.

He fills in gaps for Clinton. And in some respects he compares favorably with the man he'd like to replace, Vice President Quayle.

Gore brings family stability and conservatism in his personal life. This is precisely what many Americans find lacking in the glib, saxophone-playing Clinton, who confessed - with wife Hillary at his side and on national television - his own marital troubles.

If Gore has a wild side, he's fooled everyone, including several Bush aides who privately praised the choice.

Sources on the search committee said Clinton wanted someone who could assume the presidency, who shared his political values and had no skeletons in his closet.

"You would be an excellent president," Clinton told Gore when he phoned him before midnight Wednesday. "I have decided that if you are willing, I want you to be my running mate."

Gore agreed immediately, and Clinton gave the thumbs-up sign to his wife and to aides Bruce Lindsey, Mark Gearan and Warren Christopher, the Los Angeles lawyer who headed the search committee.

"We are going to do this thing," Clinton said to the small group, "and we are going to have fun doing it."

Not everyone liked Clinton's choice of a running mate with a similar resume.

"It takes two wings to fly," groused Jesse Jackson, who once entertained hopes of being chosen himself, "and here you have two of the same wing."

As both men appeared here under the blistering noonday Southern sun, their wives and children flanking them, it was also apparent that the baby-boom generation had arrived.

"The time has come for all Americans to get off the sidelines, to get involved in the process, to be a part of the healing this country needs . . .," Gore said in a brief speech that evoked themes of John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address. "Throughout American history each generation has passed on leadership to the next. That time has come again."

Democratic leaders say Gore shores up Clinton where he is weak - and matches up strongly against the sitting vice president.

"If you're looking for someone who can draw the contrast very well with Dan Quayle, I think you've got it in Al Gore," said Susan Estrich, Michael Dukakis' 1988 campaign manager. "I mean, (Gore) proves you can be good- looking and smart at the same time."

Gore is an expert on arcane scientific issues and is considered one of the brightest men in the U.S. Senate. Quayle was considered an average senator, though he was more popular with his colleagues. And the cautious and well- spoken Gore is not given to the malapropisms that have plagued the vice president.

As a young man, Gore opposed the Vietnam War, but he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Vietnam. Quayle, who professed support for it, avoided the war by enlisting in a National Guard unit in Indiana.

Gore also may be the ideal Democratic antidote to Quayle's recent pitch about "family values," which Quayle discusses in terms of monogamy, fidelity, and to opposition to abortion and bearing children out of wedlock.

Both Quayle and Gore are considered devoted family men and conscientious parents. Gore decided against a presidential run of his own this fall, in part

because his wife, Tipper, was still anxious about Gore's youngest child, Albert Gore 3d, who was hit by a car in 1989 and seriously injured.

Also, Tipper Gore was the driving force behind a successful effort to get the record industry to issue warning labels on music with violent or sexually explicit language that is marketed to children.

"The Clinton-Gore ticket is the pro-family ticket in this race and we will be the pro-family administration," Gore said, adding that the Bush administration had vetoed a Family Leave Bill that would have guaranteed workers the right to take unpaid maternity or sick leave to be with their children.

"Both of us are married to two of the most devoted children's advocates in the United States of America," said Clinton, whose wife is chairman of the board of the Children's Defense Fund. "We have the best plan, and now we have the best ticket."

Not that Gore has led a perfect life. In 1988, he admitted smoking pot while he was in college. But even this admission contrasts with Clinton, who ducked the marijuana question for years and then, three months ago, finally admitted trying it when he was at college in England - although he insisted that he didn't inhale.

Even Perot, however, praised the choice of Gore, and the Bush campaign could do no better than boilerplate criticism.

Charles Black, a top Bush campaign official, characterized Gore as "an across-the-board liberal who votes with Teddy Kennedy most of the time." Bush spokeswoman Torie Clarke suggested that in choosing a fellow Southerner, Clinton showed that "he was pretty insecure about the South."

In a normal year, she'd be right, but Perot's presence changes almost every traditional political calculation. It puts the normally solid Republican South into play and may make Gore a plus in unlikely places.

Outside of Tennessee, Gore's strongest appeal could be in the vast suburbs of California, where his knowledge and passion about environmental issues may sell well.

Finally, Gore offers Clinton an advantage Bush lacked four years ago: Unlike Quayle, Gore has sought the presidency before. Consequently, he's already been subjected to the unrelenting media scrutiny that comes with a modern presidential campaign - and that unnerved Quayle in 1988.

"Al Gore has been out there around the track, everybody knows who he is," said former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who also ran for president four years ago. "He's been investigated from top to bottom."

And Gore, the son of a U.S. senator, is steeped in political tradition and the ways of Washington.

"We raised him for it," Albert Gore Sr. said yesterday.

comments powered by Disqus