Abducted By Aliens?

al gore speaking before Democratic Convention - fists
The most pressing question on the Gore campaign bus/plane/riverboat these days is - where is Al Gore? Not that the vice president is actually missing, but the Al Gore that we've seen on the campaign trail since the Democratic convention in Los Angeles is not the Al Gore that we have come to know for these past eight years.

The vice president that we're familiar with is stiff, wooden, lackluster and grandiloquent. He has a nagging habit of answering any question with an irrelevant policy address delivered by rote. He is inaccessible, unapproachable and downright unappealing to many voters. In short, he is the anti-candidate. And poll numbers appeared to back that up.

But the world changed on the night Gore delivered his acceptance speech at the convention last week. Or, rather, Al Gore changed. No one is quite sure what happened, but Naomi Wolf's Alpha Male suddenly became - I don't want to say embraceable - but he became ... different.

He answers questions. He dances. He can actually turn his head without the rest of his body following. Even the wave (in his hair) looks more relaxed. Al Gore is no longer the Tin Man. To those of us who follow him on the campaign it is as if Al Gore was abducted by aliens and an imperfect facsimile left in his place.

All of this of course, has had a dramatic effect on the polls. The latest CBS News survey now has Gore leading Bush by 45-44 percent - a 16-point turnaround since the Republican convention. He's up on favorability, on leadership, and he has taken back the lead on key Democratic issues such as education, the economy and Social Security. Issues that George Bush was either leading or tied on.

It's apparent in his demeanor. In interviews, he thinks about his answer rather than plotting how to avoid an answer. He is affable and quick to say hello, even when he is suffering from a slight cold. Heck, he even gave an impromptu press conference on the Mark Twain riverboat when he had just come down to the galley to get a doughnut. Wait a minute - did I say doughnut? Isn't this the guy who wanted to make granola the national food?

Now, perhaps I am suffering from Stockholm syndrome after being cooped up on said riverboat for four days. Or, perhaps it is an elaborate plot to co-opt the traveling press.

But Al Gore has actually become inspiring to watch. On Saturday night, in Clinton, Iowa, on the night of Tipper's 52nd birthday, he gave an off-the-cuff stem-winder that had the crowd on their feet ready to testify.

Lines like, "Let it be said a hundred years from now that people gathered together in Clinton, Iowa, on a Saturday night close to midnight and decided to do what was right for America." He blew the audience - and the press corps - away. Then, with confetti blowing all around, he did a two-step with Tipper as the crowd went wild. Geez Louise. This is Al Gore?

Maybe it's just the doctrine of low expectations. Gore tells us from the tump that he may "not be the most exciting politician." So anything that rises slightly above the drone seems way out of the ordinary. But as a person who has seen both Al Gores, I hope that spaceship doesn't come back any time soon.