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Gore accepts Democratic nomination 'as my own man'

Gore appears on video screen
Gore accepts the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday during his 51-minute speech  

Nominee attacks GOP, champions 'working families' in powerful address

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In perhaps the most important speech of his political career, Vice President Al Gore emerged from eight years in the shadow of President Clinton and accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night by pledging to speak for "the working families who are the strength and soul of America."

"We're entering a new time, we're electing a new president," Gore told the cheering convention crowd. "And I stand here tonight as my own man, and I want you to know me for who I truly am."

Political observers have cast Thursday's acceptance speech as crucial to Gore's election prospects in November. Despite nearly 25 years of public service as a congressman, senator, and vice president, Gore the presidential candidate remains a bewildering political figure to most Americans.

"I'm here to talk seriously about the issues. I believe people deserve to know specifically what a candidate proposes to do. I intend to tell you tonight. You ought to be able to know, and then judge for yourself," the vice president said.

Despite the fact that a number of voters share his views on issues such as abortion, expanded health care, guns and the environment, Gore continues to trail the Republican rival George W. Bush in most nationwide polls -- a fact fast becoming ominous for his campaign as it enters the final, crucial months of the presidential election season.

Although Gore never mentioned his opponent by name during his 51-minute speech, the Democratic nominee used the bulk of his acceptance address to outline policy differences between the two candidates on health care, education, the environment, and tax cuts.

Policy proclamations

He took particular aim at the five-year, $483 billion plan "that the other side has proposed" as an agenda that favors only the richest Americans "at the expense of everyone else."

"For every $10 that goes to the wealthiest 1 percent, middle class families would get one dime and lower-income families would get one penny. In fact if you add it up, the average family would get money to buy one extra Diet Coke a day."

"Let me tell you, that's not the kind of change I'm looking working for," Gore said, to one of his loudest applause line of the evening.

In a speech dense with full range of policy specifics, Gore stressed his commitment to offering a prescription drug plan under Medicare, a comprehensive patients' bill of rights, stricter environmental protections, and funding for additional public schools.

"And that's the difference in this election," he said. "They're for the powerful," he said of the Republicans. "We're for the people. Big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs. Sometimes you have to be willing to stand up and say no, so families can have a better life."

Gore drew perhaps his loudest ovation of the night when he pledged to protect abortion rights and said:"The last thing this country needs is a Supreme Court that overturns" a woman's right to choose.

Moving beyond Clinton

Economic prosperity figured prominently in the speech. In his only direct reference to Clinton, Gore gave the president credit for moving the country "out of the valley of recession and into the longest period of prosperity in American history."

But while embracing the economic boom the country has enjoyed during the past eight years, Gore has also been forced to confront another issue that will undoubtedly always be associated with the Clinton administration -- the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Gore and Lieberman
Gore and his running mate Joe Lieberman wave to cheering Democrats  

"If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."

Although the Clinton administration weathered the 1998 scandal, its lingering effects have continued to nag Gore's presidential efforts. Just hours before he was set to deliver his acceptance speech, word spread from Washington that Independent Counsel Robert Ray has seated another grand jury to investigate charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Clinton in the matter.

White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the timing of the disclosure "reeks to high heaven."

Despite the news, the Democratic gathering in Los Angeles was abuzz with anticipation as delegates eagerly awaited Gore's acceptance speech. His appearance was preceded by a biographical video tribute stressing the vice president's Tennessee roots, as well as characters testimonials by friends and family members.

"As a a husband, father, and grandfather, Al has always been there for our family and he will always be there for your family," his wife Tipper told the convention.

Gore: presidency more than 'popularity contest'

Critics charge that Gore has been through numerous makeovers since defeating Democratic challenger Bill Bradley in the March primaries, alternating between harsh attacks on Republican rival George W. Bush some weeks, and never even mentioning him during other long stretches on the campaign trail.

"The presidency is more than a popularity contest," Gore insisted Thursday night. "It's a day-by-day fight for people. Sometimes, you have to choose to do what's difficult or unpopular. Sometimes, you have to be willing to spend your popularity in order to pick the hard right over the easy wrong."

Gore campaign aides said Thursday that the vice president was fully aware of the importance of tonight's speech. He drafted much of the acceptance address by himself, and road-tested his delivery beforehand to delegates from his home state of Tennessee and his running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Liebermans and Gores
Gore and his wife Tipper, right, are joined onstage by Hadassah and Joe Lieberman, left, following his acceptance speech  

It wasn't until midway through his speech that Gore actually accepted his party's party nomination, with a rallying cry to core Democrats. "In the name of all the working families who are the strength and soul of America," said Gore, "I accept your nomination."

The balloons were still dropping from the ceiling of the Staples Center, when the Bush campaign offered its rebuttal of Gore's speech.

"The working families of America will not be well-served by more fighting in Washington, yet Vice President Gore tonight offers more of the same old language of class warfare, partisanship and division," said campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Gore has been struggling for months to catch up in the polls with Bush, and is counting on his address before the nation to give his campaign a boost. History has shown that candidate leading in early September nearly always wins in November, a fact not lost on the Gore campaign.

In a symbolic bid to take their bid for the presidency to the American heartland, Gore and Lieberman will depart Los Angles on Friday for Wisconsin, where they will embark on a paddleboat tour that will take the 400 miles down the Mississippi river to Hannibal, Missouri, the hometown of national icon Mark Twain. The trip ends Monday.


Thursday, August 17, 2000

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