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Al Gore: His Own Man?

He may be President Clinton's vice president, but Al Gore says he's becoming his own man as he campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"A vice president has an obligationÂ…to make sure that the answers you're giving help the administrationÂ…instead of giving your own spontaneous feelings," he said during an interview Wednesday with Anchor Bryant Gumbel of The Early Show.

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He said his approach is changing as he spends more time on the campaign trail.

"As important as the job of vice president is, it's more important to try to establish a clear and direct line of communication with the American people in order to talk about the future," he explained.

But while Gore may be eager to focus on the future, the vice president does have a political past.

Gumbel questioned him about his current feelings about Mr. Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky and its aftermath, asking, "Last December, as vice president, on the day that Bill Clinton was impeached, you said he would be remembered as one of this country's greatest presidents. You're now a candidate. Do you still believe that?"

Citing the nation's healthy economy and lower crime rate, Gore said, "There are some people today that think that all of those accomplishments and others will be completely eclipsed by the president's personal mistake. Maybe they're right, but I kind of doubt that."

Within his own party, Gore's strongest opponent is Bill Bradley, over whom he has a substantial lead. But he is not doing as well against Republican Gov. George W. Bush.

A CBS News Early Show poll shows that 44 percent of respondents think Gore has strong leadership qualities, compared with 67 percent for Bush. Only 45 percent think the vice president has more honesty and integrity than others in public life.

But the good news for Gore is that 85 percent believe he understands the problems a president faces.

The vice president told Gumbel that he believes health care is emerging as the major issue of the campaign.

"People wantÂ…a health care patient's bill of rights to curb the abuses by so many of the HMOs and insurance companies," he said.

"I think also keeping the economy strong and growing is a dominant concern, because people don't take it for granted. They know we shouldn't fritter away the surplus. We ought to keep the economy growing," Gore added.

When asked how he would go about making sure every American had adequate health coverage, Gore referred viewers to his Web site,

"I have put a proposal out on my Web site [that]Â…extends it to every child, and to many of the parents of those children, up to 250 percent of the poverty level," he said.

Finally, Gumbel asked Gore if he considers Donald Trump a credible political candidate, and the vice president declined to make that call, explaining, "I'm probably one of the least qualified people in America to pass judgment on the alleged credibility or lack thereof of some other candidate. I just won't do that."