Gore Presents Fine Foil to Clinton

He brings a clean record, penchant for deep study of issues, strong environmental focus

EVEN Republicans admit that the Clinton campaign helped itself by putting Sen. Albert Gore Jr. on the ticket.

No one has ever accused Senator Gore of being a star campaigner or a great speaker like some of the party's leading liberal lights, Jesse Jackson or Mario Cuomo.

Tennesseans who remember his early days on the stump, running for the House and Senate, contrast his formal, deep-voiced gravitas with the folksy common touch of the first Senator Gore, his father.

One of Gore's assets is his history of pragmatic moderation and deep thinking on public problems. Another asset is his history of serious inquiry on long-range environmental risks. Scandal-free

But an even greater asset is his lack of a record in office or his personal life that presents easy political targets.

Both Bill Clinton, as five-term governor of a poor state, and George Bush, after 12 years in the White House, have much more to answer for.

As a member of Congress, Gore has not been held directly responsible by voters for problems like the performance of the national economy or the quality of life in Arkansas.

Gore's trademark in Congress has been impressive mastery of his chosen subjects - from nuclear deterrence to ozone depletion - and a deft skill in using congressional hearings to his advantage.

The Gore family still owns a farm thick with green and the sawing music of insects in Smith County, Tenn., near where his parents live.

Childhood friends who are still here remember him in the summers as unpretentious, a regular guy. But Gore spent most of the year in Washington at a prestigious private school.

His father was a famous liberal idealist in the Senate, one of the most outspoken opponents of the Vietnam War. His mother was the first woman to graduate from Vanderbilt law school, and one old family friend has called her "the brains of the family."

One of the young Albert's first important public decisions was to go to Vietnam when drafted. His parents told him they would support his decision to go or not to go. If necessary, his mother would even go to Canada with him, she said. But to avoid service would have been damaging to his father's re-election campaign.

He went. He never saw battle, but served as an army reporter for an engineering unit. He was in Vietnam for six months.

Last year, he was one of a minority of Senate Democrats who voted to authorize the President to launch war against Iraq. Gore's support of the war was much clearer than that of Governor Clinton, whose statements were ambiguous until well after the war was over.

Gore's first real mark, though, was in his first career as an investigative reporter for the Nashville Tennessean. Gore conducted separate investigations of bribe-taking and soliciting by local councilmen. Two were indicted, one was convicted.

He was writing editorials for the Tennessean by day and attending law school by night when he heard that the congressman in his home district was retiring. Within three days, he cut his slightly longish hair, quit the Tennessean, and announced he was running. Before making the announcement, he was so nervous he become sick.

He has shown little anxiety since. He ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 at an age, 39, that would have made him the youngest US president in history. He won a handful of Southern states and emerged as the leading candidate of the party's moderate wing.

In Congress, he continued his investigative bent. In planning and running public hearings, he was as well-prepared and aggressive as a prosecutor.

As a House member in the early 1980s, he ran hearings investigating the effects of toxic- waste dumping in Love Canal, N.Y. He eventually co-authored the bill that created the Superfund for toxic-waste cleanup.

He made his reputation in Washington, however, on nuclear-weapons strategy. As methodical as ever, he studied the issue an hour a day for nearly 14 months until he became one of a handful of leading authorities in Congress on the subject, keeping company with far senior figures such as Senate Armed Services chairman Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia. Moderate on defense He has been a centrist on defense matters. He always opposed a full-scale Strategic Defense Initiative, for example, but irked some liberals with his support of nuclear-warhead-carrying missiles which he thought made a first strike by either side less likely.

On the environment, he is not really a moderate. In his best-selling new book, "Earth in the Balance; Ecology and the Human Spirit," he is a strong advocate for wealthy nations to spend money on environmentally safe technology for developing countries.

The book was one result of a pivotal life experience for the Senator. When leaving a baseball stadium in 1989, Gore's then-six-year-old son, Albert III, was hit by a car and critically injured. During the long recovery, on the heels of his losing the presidential bid and the landmark of his 40th birthday, Gore writes in his book, something for him "changed in a fundamental way."

"This life change," he writes, "has caused me to be increasingly impatient with the status quo, the conventional wisdom, with the lazy assumption that we can always muddle through."

He adds: "But, perhaps most important, I have become very impatient with my own tendency to put a finger to the political winds and proceed cautiously."

Last summer, he decided not to run for president again because it would take him away from his family - to a degree that running for vice president won't.

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