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Gore hopes hawkish words with a Southern drawl bring victory

By Donald L. RheemStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 30, 1987



Washington

WHEN Albert Gore Jr. was growing up in Washington, D.C., he used to throw water balloons off a hotel roof at passing cars. Now, at 39, he is running for the presidency and is lobbing political grenades at his Democratic rivals. Considered a long shot when he entered the race, Senator Gore has earned a new-found respect as he separates himself from the rest of the Democratic field by accusing his competition of being soft on defense.

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The strategy has helped him among conservative Southern Democrats, which is reflected in his move to the top of the polls in the Southern Super Tuesday primary states. In an October Harris poll of the region, Mr. Gore stood just one point behind Jesse Jackson - the current Democratic front-runner in the South.

Energetic, youthful, and a quick study with a voracious intellectual appetite, Al Gore is beginning to impress people. In a recent meeting with reporters, former Democratic National Committee head Robert Strauss said Gore may well become the party's candidate.

Gore calls himself a ``Radio Shack Democrat,'' shorthand for a member of the party particularly attuned to a society growing more dependent on science and technology. ``Elected representatives of a free people must be willing to devote time and attention to understanding the implications of the scientific and technological revolution,'' he explains. ``From changes that affect our ability to compete in the world, to changes that affect the quality of life and the nature of work.''

For those who force him to put a label on his political beliefs, ``I have resorted to the phrase `raging moderate,''' he says. The label is meant ``to convey an inclination to avoid jumping off the deep end in one direction or the other - a tendency to search for a pragmatic solution to the issues at hand - [and] a willingness to bring real passion and energy and commitment to the pursuit of what I think is right.''

Baby-boomer for president

While his congressional performance may demonstrate his intellectual capacity, many voters might ask whether that is enough to qualify a young man for the most powerful leadership position in the free world. Is the American electorate ready for a ``baby boom'' president? It is a thought that hasn't escaped the candidate.

``I don't want to embarrass myself,'' he told one friend when he was trying to decide whether to run.

His wife, Tipper, admits there were early doubts: ``I think we understood that people would be saying, `Well, who is this brash young fellow ... who does he think he is?' At the same time we quickly overcame it.''

Not one to take too many political chances, Gore turned over tax and other personal records to two investigators after Gary Hart dropped out of the race, according to one source close to the candidate. Gore told them to ``try and find something,'' the source says.

Many observers describe him as too stiff, too serious. ``Al doesn't have time to be anything but serious,'' says Jill Gore, a cousin who has watched him grow up.

``I started out the campaign probably a little stiff and a little tight,'' he admits. ``But about two or three months into the campaign I learned how to put it in a better perspective and relax.'' Close friends agree that he does have a sense of humor beneath his no-nonsense demeanor. It's a demeanor derived partly from a disciplined childhood and partly by an earnestness to do his best.

``If Al had a failing, it was over-aggressiveness,'' says a former aide. ``You talk to the guy and he will blank you out,'' says another former staff member, ``... because he has got 12 things on his mind.''

Man with a mission

The young senator does have a sense of mission about his work. His self-assurance comes in large measure from his religious faith. ``I don't wear it on my sleeve or talk about it as part of my political message at all,'' says Gore, a Baptist. ``But ... religion is an extremely important part of my life and of my family's life.''

Gore has a ``sense about himself that he is talented,'' says Thomas Grumbly, the staff director of the only congressional panel Gore has chaired, the Investigations and Oversight subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee.