Gore Takes Command

al gore speaking before Democratic Convention - fists
Al Gore accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for president "in the name of all the working families who are the strength and soul of America," with an optimistic speech, casting himself as a populist advocate for the people.

In the most important speech of his 25-year career in public life, Gore's goals were to help voters understand the differences between his agenda and George W. Bush's, to increase his personal appeal and to climb out of the long shadow of Bill Clinton.

"I stand here tonight as my own man," Gore said, "and I want you to know me for who I truly am."

The 55-minute address, which went over like gangbusters inside the convention hall, was long on domestic promises and light on foreign policy.

"I believe people deserve to know specifically what a candidate proposes to do. I intend to tell you tonight," Gore said – and he did.

Gore promised to raise the minimum wage; reform campaign finance laws; defend abortion rights; pass a hate crimes law; fund enforcement of civil rights laws; double government funding for cancer research; and work for universal preschool and health care for American children, and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing victims' rights in the criminal justice system.

He said "the difference in this election" is the Republicans are "for the powerful, and we’re for the people. Judge for yourself. Look at the agenda. Look at the facts."

The Gore campaign has framed its message that way for several months, and is betting the election on the belief that when voters compare Gore to Bush, issue by issue, they'll choose Gore's policy agenda over Bush's folksy charm.

Taking aim at Bush's most significant domestic proposal, Gore said, "Let me say it plainly: I will not go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else and wreck our good economy in the process."

Perhaps the most effective section of Gore's speech was when he told the personal stories of invited guests from around the country, each of whom represents one of his policy goals – managed health-care reform, Medicare prescription drug benefits, reinvigorating public schools and targeted tax cuts.

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  • When Gore made the case for the Democratic version of the Patients' Bill of Rights, cameras cut to a young father of a seriously ill child wiping tears from his eyes.

    For days in Los Angeles, friends and family have taken the podium to tell delegates and cable TV viewers who the private Al Gore is. His adult daughter remembered a father who made breakfast for the kids everyday; a college buddy remembered shooting pool and goofing off at Harvard; and wife Tipper introduced Gore Thursday with a photo montage that showed a hunky young husband on family vacations with picture-perfect children. There was even a shot of the usually well-manicured Gore with a road trip beard.

    Gore talked about the lessons of his parents' long marriage, his service in Vietnam and his first career as a journalist. The Gore biography has been previewed on the campaign trail for small audiences but Thursday was its national unveiling.

    There was a catch in Gore's voice when he acknowledged his aged mother in the crowd, a woman who graduated from law school in the days before the women's movement.

    Gore sounded a little nervous coming out of the gate, and raced through much of the speech, speaking over most of the crowd's bursts of applause and even their chants of "Go, Al, go!"

    He stuck closely to his prepared text – a text he says he wrote himself with minimal input from speechwriters or advisers.

    It was a workmanlike recitation that didn't really achieve liftoff until the end, when he addressed himself to young people and called America "the hope of humankind."

    "I don't think that Democratic professionals, as opposed to the rank and file, would take a lot of encouragement from this speech," says Rice University political scientist Earl Black, who was underwhelmed.

    Gore's speech, he says, is not "likely to be persuasive to a lot of people who are not already his supporters," and may even leave out upper middle-class suburbanites, a key swing group.

    "There are going to be a lot of people who say, 'I don’t seem to qualify as a working family in [Gore's] definition.'" Black says Gore prioritized shoring up his base – only 70 percent of Democrats supported him going into the convention – over reaching out to independent voters.

    In closing, Gore said, with some self-knowledge, "I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious," and if elected, "I knoI won’t always be the most exciting politician."

    But, with a light touch, he both compared himself to Bush – "the presidency is more than a popularity contest" – and distinguished himself from President Clinton -- "I will never let you down."

    Gore named Mr. Clinton only once, saying "millions of American will lead better lives for a long time to come because of the job done by President Bill Clinton."

    In a nonpartisan Battleground Poll of likely voters conducted Monday and Tuesday, a majority of voters who had seen or read about Bush recently were more likely to vote for him because of it. But Gore brought around only one-third of people who'd followed his campaign recently.

    The next several days may tell if Gore's finally punched through.