Gore's path strewn with high hurdles

He's likely to get a lift, but the party is beset by dissonance over strategy.

Newly anointed Democratic nominee Al Gore leaves Los Angeles with his party still not united behind him and with many hurdles he must yet surmount - quickly - if he is to outstrip GOP standard bearer George W. Bush and pull off an upset victory in November.

But that doesn't mean his cause is lost. There is agreement among analysts of both parties that Mr. Gore is still very much in this race and could pull out a win. Peace and prosperity certainly don't hurt his cause. If he gets the typical post-convention "bounce" in the polls - six points - he would come within a few points of Governor Bush, his main rival.

"Gore has to make a strong comeback, but I think he's within striking distance," says Henry Kenski, a political analyst at the University of Arizona at Tucson and local Republican adviser. "Bush's lead is not insurmountable."

The vice president's bid may be hampered, though, by uncertainty over exactly how he should sell himself to the American people between now and Nov. 7. The party's elected officials and activists disagree among themselves, including if and where Gore should employ President Clinton on his behalf.

Gore makes strides, but more big hurdles lie ahead

The calendar and a somewhat blas electorate also form part of Gore's challenge. After this blip of public focus on the conventions, observers don't expect another surge of attention until the mid-October debates. The Olympics in September will provide a major distraction. Then comes baseball's World Series.

While the candidates and interest groups can buy the public's attention through advertising, that will be concentrated in the battleground regions: the Midwest and a handful of other states, including Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Aside from the debates, it may be difficult to get a vigorous national conversation going on who will be the next president of the United States.

Here in Los Angeles, Gore couldn't claim the level of party unity at his convention that Governor Bush had at his. By the end of the week, all sides were smiling for the cameras, but some Democrats remain concerned that African-Americans, an important part of the party's base, won't turn out for Gore the way they did for Mr. Clinton, despite efforts by vice-presidential nominee Joe Lieberman to assuage their concerns.

In an interview on the floor of the convention, Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. spoke of how there are "many people who are disappointed with the two parties," mentioning the "corporate influence" on each.

But, he added, "many of us don't have the luxury of ... being so upset with the Democratic campaign that we want to support Ralph Nader. My grandmother's Social Security is at stake."

For Gore, many variables remain. If Mr. Nader, the Green Party nominee, remains a strong alternative for disaffected liberals - part of why Washington and Oregon remain a toss-up - he could cost Gore the election. If the public never focuses on the details of issues the way Gore hopes, he may stay stuck trailing Bush, whom the public perceives as more likeable. And if Gore doesn't do well in the debates, an arena where he typically excels, he may lose his last, best shot at overtaking Bush.

Some Democrats believe Gore has yet to make the case for himself as strongly as he could.

"What I would advise Gore to do in the next 90 days is say, 'You know, let's face it, George W. Bush and I grew up under very similar circumstances,' " Democrat strategist James Carville said at a Monitor breakfast with reporters. "We grew up under circumstances, frankly, that most Americans could only envy....

"However, from this we took two different approaches to what government is and to what public service is." And he ticked off the differences: service in Vietnam, the type of tax cut that's best for America, how best to improve education. When asked if he thought Gore could carry off such a speech, Mr. Carville was hesitant.

Carville also believes Clinton should recede into the background, although other Democrats disagree.

"He needs to frame the question to voters as, which of the two of us is more likely to continue the remarkable economic success story of the last eight years," says Martin O'Malley, the centrist mayor of Baltimore. "Because of that, he should make himself closer to Clinton."

Paddy McGuire, the "whip" for the Oregon delegation, says Gore needs to remind the public of his personal stories, such as his son's near-fatal car accident. "This isn't a guy who's had everything handed to him his whole life," he says. "It's not the Bill Clinton story, but it's ... important for the country to hear."

At minimum, the cacophony of advice shows that Gore's path to Nov. 7 is not a completely obvious one.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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