WASHINGTON — FOR sheer togetherness, no pair of running mates in modern memory appears to have matched Bill Clinton and Al Gore Jr.
Between the Democratic National Convention and election day, they spent close to 50 days campaigning side by side, a new record.
They figured out they were more dynamic together than alone, displaying a sense of equality between the top and bottom of the ticket. In joint appearances, says a campaign and transition aide, "it was not unusual for them to finish each other's sentences."
As they prepare to start work in the West Wing of the White House, Mr. Gore is perhaps as well-positioned as any vice president-elect to be effective and influential in the office.
But President-elect Clinton's talk of a "full partnership," with major duties for Gore in shaping technology policy, is probably unrealistic, according to close students of the vice presidency. Limits on display
The built-in limits of the vice presidency were on display last Thursday as Clinton gave his first press conference of the transition period. Gore stood rigidly behind him throughout, signaling both Clinton's desire that Gore be visible, but also how awkward and secondary that position can be.
"In some ways, that was a very dramatic representation of the gap between partnership rhetoric and the reality," says Michael Nelson, a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and an author of a book on the vice presidency.
On the other hand, however humbling that news conference was for Gore, it was exactly the kind of gesture he needs to make to establish the trust of the Clinton team, says Paul Light, a Brookings Institution scholar and also an author of a book on the vice presidency.
"It shows Al Gore's willingness to subsume himself," he says.
Clinton has outlined a generous role for Gore, publicly stressing the importance of his vice president-elect. "Senator Gore and I have continued the partnership we began in the campaign," Clinton said at his press conference, calling it "perhaps unprecedented."
Gore is in a very small group that spends most of the working day with Clinton in the Arkansas governor's mansion, working out policy questions for the transition.
His prominence in the transition is unusual for a vice president, Professor Nelson says. A transition aide says Clinton and Gore will "come into office with a relationship unlike any other president and vice president." They have already built a strong rapport that usually has to be forged in office, the aide says.
Gore holds two common characteristics of effective vice presidents, pundits say. One is that he has never run against the president he will serve, thereby avoiding hurdles in the way of trust. The other is that he is a Washington insider serving a president from beyond the notorious Beltway.
Clinton speaks of using Gore's knowledge of local custom as his major emissary to Congress. Gore recalled on Monday that Clinton asked him last summer to pay special attention, should they win the election, "to rebuilding a good working relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch." Gore's role unclear
Whether Gore will have a more specific policy role is not entirely clear at this point. However, a Clinton campaign position paper drafted in late September does outline a very specific role for the vice president.
In the paper, Clinton promises to give Gore "responsibility and authority" to coordinate technology policy in the coming administration, including the organizing of all agencies and factions of government to develop and implement the policy.
Gore seems to have the background to lead technology policy. Although he has no formal credentials in technical subjects, he has been a leader in the Senate and a relentlessly curious student of all sorts of science and technology matters. He was also author of a bestselling book on the environment last year.
But transition aides no longer repeat the clearly spelled-out duties in the September campaign document.
Instead, they say Clinton and Gore have been discussing the direction of their administration, so far not defining the role of the vice president.
Gore is hearing advice that a vice president errs by taking on too much responsibility for policy.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale, considered one of the most influential vice presidents in recent history, advises that a vice president should be an honest broker to the president, giving advice only in private and on a full range of issues. A vice president should not become ensnarled in taking sides in policy disputes, he says.
At the heart of this widely shared view is the idea that the president cannot have a partner, ever. He cannot always give his vice president the last word on an issue, and barring that, the president may have to call a policy dispute in favor of another official, thus reducing the vice president's stature.
Professor Light says: "Gore's greatest value is as a second set of eyes on every decision."