And now for the fun

The torch has been passed. The speeches given. And as the crews begin to tear down the stage that hosted America 2000, as this convention was rather hyperbolically called, Al Gore's road looks complicated.

In Philadelphia, on the night of George W.'s big speech, there was talk of whether the candidate could "seal the deal" that night. This was always a ridiculous idea.

Americans are a tough sell. They hold their interest and support the same way they hold their remotes - at the slightest inkling of disinterest they are clicking away, looking for something better.

In the end, Mr. Bush got what he needed out of his trip to Philly. He received a little bounce and answered some questions when he didn't wilt during his speech.

And when the polls come out in the next few days they will probably show that Mr. Gore did the same here. But all of this is just the beginning of the fun part of this campaign - the stretch run - not the end.

Bush, a likeable character, is now left with the task of proving he's ready to be president. He has to show he knows the issues and explain his proposals for them. This is not simple. In the debates, in particular, where the scripts may not be completely gone but are at the very least pared down, he will have to show he can think on his feet.

But Gore's problem is harder. He has two missions.

Throughout the last four days, every journalist here was told about the need to re-introduce Gore to the American people. The focus on that point was so strong that at times you had to wonder why they didn't call the convention Cocktail Party 2000 and put Gore on stage with a "Hi, my name is ... AL" sticker on his suit jacket.

He has to continue doing this, humanizing himself by reminding people he has a life that began before he was Clinton's redwood backdrop.

At the same time, however, Gore knows his best chance to win in November is to focus as hard as he can on the issues, because that's where his strength is. He needs to talk about the differences between his ideas and Bush's, and how his are linked to the nation's current winning streak.

Mixing these two objectives is difficult.

Look at it this way: Right now, this presidential campaign is like some weird, hybrid form of Jeopardy - with Bush and Gore playing different versions.

Bush is playing celebrity Jeopardy. He is some popular star and as you watch him the real question is whether he actually knows anything - particularly in the geography category.

But Gore is playing the regular brand of the game. He is some plumber from Dubuque that most people really don't know.

He has to simultaneously clear the board and make himself into a personality. (He also has to worry about being upstaged by Ralph Nader, the man in the ill-fitting suit.)

Before he even does that though, Gore has to settle on one Al Gore for the campaign trail - he has to be himself. If Gore tries to out-Bush Bush, he won't win.

Gore has one big thing in his corner. He does have a compelling life story to tell. From growing up in Washington and on his Tennessee farm, to his service in Vietnam, to his family life, he hits all the right marks. But it's not just who he was, but who he is.

The tendency is to view Gore as that kind of annoying kid that sat next to you in school - the one who was a little too eager to please and seemed more like a teacher than a fellow student.

Somehow in the next 2-1/2 months he has find a way to get past that image while still leading the nation in a seminar on the issues he needs to highlight. You can call that Jeopardy or Double Jeopardy.

Whatever you call it, it's not easy.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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