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Gore Gets Points For Effort

Vice President Al Gore received some long-sought good news from a poll showing him opening his lead up in the bid for the 2000 Democratic nomination.

According to a recent Newsweek poll, Gore picked up nine points, closing ground on Republican rival George W. Bush, to a margin of 43-49.

Meanwhile, a Los Angeles Times found that the race is very close in New Hampshire. On the Democratic side, the poll found Gore with 43 percent and Bill Bradley with 42 percent. On the Republican side, Bush had 44 percent and John McCain 36 percent. Publisher Steve Forbes was third with 5 percent.

One political observer says practice has made Gore better.

"I think the vice president appears to be in a freefall in the summer, early fall and had to retool his whole approach to campaigning and while he's still not that natural at it, he's far better at it than six or eight months ago," says Charles Cook, political analyst for The National Journal.

On Friday, Gore gave New Hampshire a thorough stumping, rolling up his sleeves and fielding questions from citizens one-on-one.

Gore is the last to leave his own parties these days. Call it his leave-no-stone-unturned strategy for beating the equally cerebral Bill Bradley for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"New Hampshire is the whole game and it's still very, very close," Cook says. "New Hampshire is a state that loves mavericks, that loves challengers and loves knocking off the establishment candidate and it's going to be a close call. It's a made-to-order state for Bill Bradley."

After campaigning most of the year from behind a vice presidential lectern, and seeing his once-presumed nomination degrade to a wide-open question, Gore also is using these open forums to establish himself as a leader in his own right - out of President Clinton's shadow.

At a Saturday forum in the cafeteria of Concord's Dame School, Gore responded to a question about his "one weakness" by saying that for too long on the stump, he worried about contradicting Clinton administration policy.

"I think it's a weakness as a presidential candidate and certainly would be as president, if I didn't shed myself of that, which I have," Gore said.

Saturday's school stop stretched close to three hours. Gore held forth on everything from drug enforcement to the difference between Africa's Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville. (Kinshasa is the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, while Brazzaville is the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo.)

In contrast, Bradley last week opened a brief question-and-answer-session at St. Anselm College in Manchester with the joking warning, "If I can't answer it or think it's a stupid question, I'll say so."

Gore strategist Carter Eskew said Gore will continue to hold open forums even as the race moves beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, really the only two states where intensive politics are a must for cadidates.

If nothing else, most voters appear to come away from their Gore encounters impressed by his stamina. He is on his feet throughout and makes a point of thanking those who ask uncomfortable questions.

Like Patty Bushey, the Penacook special education teacher who raised the "questionable campaign contributions" that he took in the 1996 campaign with Mr. Clinton.

Gore said he holds his campaign now to "a higher standard" and he promised, if elected, "to move heaven and earth to get meaningful and tough campaign finance reform."

Bushey, 45, said afterwards that she liked how Gore "looked right at me and didn't waffle." But his presentation overall also showed Bushey "the preachy side that some people complain about," she added.

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