IN terms of conventional political wisdom, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, soon to be the Democratic presidential nominee, took a calculated risk in selecting Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr. as his running mate. But Senator Gore brings so many strengths to the ticket that the risk is worth taking.
What's the down side? At 44, Gore doesn't bring to the Democratic team the "maturity" that a more seasoned candidate would have offered. Both Clinton and Gore were born after World War II: This is truly a baby-boomer ticket. Moreover, Gore brings no geographical dowry to the union, either in terms of sectional diversity or as the son of a major state. Arkansas and Tennessee, two small states, lie side by side in the South's upper tier.
Yet in these possible weaknesses reside potential strengths. Many voters may be attracted to and energized by a youthful Democratic team that so boldly asserts a generational shift in the nation's leadership. And because both Clinton and Gore were political Wunderkinder, they already have extensive experience in government that may reassure voters who otherwise would be hesitant.
Similarly, hoary wisdom regarding geographical balance may have to be tossed out this year, since Ross Perot's bid scrambles all the customary political calculations. Among other things, Perot might toss up for grabs Southern states that have been securely in the Republican column in recent presidential elections. A Democratic ticket comprised of two moderate Southerners could bring many Southern white voters "home" to their old party.
Gore adds much to the Democratic ticket individually. He has one of the most original minds in the Senate. He is a recognized expert on environmental and arms-control issues and has solid credentials in other foreign-policy areas - something Clinton lacks. As a supporter of the Gulf war, Gore may assuage lingering concerns that the Democrats are "soft" on defense. And his wife, Tipper Gore, is a longtime activist in behalf of the "family values" Vice President Quayle talks about.
In the first truly "presidential" decision he has had to make, Bill Clinton - by choosing a running mate who is qualified to assume the highest office - gets a high mark.