Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepgaelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: From Our Own Correspondent
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Saturday, 23 October, 1999, 13:23 GMT
Gore's battle for nomination
Gore in apron stirring big pot with lid Al Gore cannot take nomination for granted

By Stephen Sackur in Washington

There's a story doing the rounds in Washington about Al Gore as a schoolboy which does much to explain why the incumbent vice-president is struggling to breathe life into his presidential campaign.

Some four decades ago, young Al was the smart well-mannered son of Senator Albert Gore of Tennessee. The family lived in the top floor suite of a posh Washington hotel.

Every day Gore Junior would make the short journey to St Albans School, a magnet for the offspring of the great and the good in the American capital.

One day Al and his class went on a field trip. For a brief moment the children were left unsupervised by their teacher and of course bedlam ensued - kids chasing each other, throwing things, climbing trees ... except for Gore.

When the teacher returned young Albert approached and asked the question that had clearly been praying on his mind.

"Sir, sir," he said, "is it time to be rowdy?"

Time to stop playing safe

Al Gore is not and never was 'Mr Spontaneous'. But wind the clock on some 40-odd years and the time has come for him to stop playing safe.

Employing some genuine passion, displaying his humanity, that's the only way the vice-president will overcome his failure to connect with the American public.

Ponder the snapshot from the Gore campaign in New Hampshire a few days ago.

Mr Gore had laboriously presented his detailed plan for expanding special education. Eventually the meeting was opened up for comments and a man in a wheelchair made some observations about funding.

Mr Gore listened intently. That is until he noticed an earnest young aide brandishing a piece of paper off to the side.

Now he tried to keep his eyes on the speaker but they kept darting to the right. He put a hand out, still trying to listen and a note was thrust into it.

Now you can tell Gore was itching to read that message. Moments later, the comments from the man in the wheelchair came to an end.

The vice-president immediately glanced down at the piece of paper. He looked up distracted, and mumbled: "Thank-you for sharing that with us."

There was an embarrassed silence, and, within seconds, he and his entourage of secret servicemen, fixers, gofers and spinners were gone.

A credible challenge

man at microphone holding out hand Bill Bradley: a familiar figure to many Americans
Of course, the failings of candidate Gore wouldn't be of such pressing concern if as seen likely just a few months ago, there was no credible challenge to his presidential aspirations from within the Democratic Party.

But now there is a threat and it's looming over Gore physically as well as metaphorically.

At 6'6", Bill Bradley cuts a familiar figure to many Americans not in the least interested by politics - because he was for years one of the nations most-celebrated basketball players. First as a college athlete at Princeton University, then as a pro with the New York Knicks.

Which isn't to say that Bill Bradley is a celebrity politician in the same mould as say the former wrestler turned Governor of Minnesota, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura.

Far from it. While Ventura revels in his lurid past and takes muscular pleasure from defying the conventions of American politics, Bradley, a former Senator, is dignified and somewhat aloof. Always deadly earnest and sometimes deadly dull.

At the beginning of this year, few pundits gave Bradley any chance of threatening Al Gore's grip on the Democratic nomination. Now they're having to re-think.

A radical outsider

Bradley's strategy has been carefully crafted to pick on the vice-president's weaknesses. He's running as an outsider, with radical ideas.

Appealing both to the millions of Americans simply fed up with two terms of Clinton and Gore, and to those Democrats who think that centrism has gone too far and who like Bradley's plans for universal health insurance, new help for the poor and much tougher gun laws.

Bradley's success can already be measured in dollars and cents. This year, amazingly, he's raised as much campaign cash as the vice-president.

And recently he made a carefully choreographed return journey to his birthplace, the small mid-west town of Crystal City, Missouri. He showed off the basketball hoop outside the family home where he practised for hours to turn himself into a prodigious young athlete.

"I know how to come from behind," he told the crowd, and it seemed like they genuinely believed he could do it again.

It's just possible though that Bradley has peaked too early.

Southern roots

white house with garden in the fore Presidential aspirations
Al Gore has finally realised that he can't take his party's nomination for granted. He's moved his campaign headquarters out of Washington to Tennessee, and, while the sight of the vice-president running away from the nation's capital seems more than a little absurd, it does allow him to remind voters of his roots in the rural south.

And he still has the support of the Democratic Party establishment, the congressmen and the labour unions, and at last he seems to have grasped the urgent need to energise his campaign.

He's called for a series of debates with Bradley, a shrewd move given that his opponent's style is even more plodding than his own.

I last saw him in New Hampshire at a neighbourhood reception. He made a much more personal speech - he now describes himself as the underdog, by the way - after which he plunged into the crowd with what seemed like enthusiasm.

Within minutes, his shirt was drenched with sweat as he glad-handed and joked his way around. The wet shirt wasn't attractive of course, but it was a sign of Al Gore's belated recognition that if he wants to be president, it is most definitely time to get rowdy
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
26 Sep 99 |  Americas
Bradley ahead of Gore
29 Sep 99 |  Americas
Gore relaunches failing campaign
11 Jun 99 |  Americas
Game plan for the White House
08 Sep 99 |  Americas
Bradley enters White House race

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other From Our Own Correspondent stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more From Our Own Correspondent stories