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What to look for Thursday at the Democratic National Convention

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Here's what to look for at Thursday at the Democratic National Convention:

The Speech: It's not much of an exaggeration to say that the entire election hinges on Al Gore's acceptance speech tonight. If he nails it, he might get enough of a convention bounce to draw even with Bush in post-convention polls. If the speech falls flat, he has squandered his best opportunity to make up ground and may never get another chance. After it became clear in the spring that Bush has staunched the bleeding from a tough primary season, the Gore campaign's entire strategy (at least the one put out for public consumption) has been based on using the convention to close the gap and moving on from there. The speech is the biggest part of that strategy and it's unclear if they have a fallback plan if it doesn't work. It's a high-stakes poker game, and it's time for Gore to show his cards.

The man from Carthage: Just before the speech, the Dems will unveil what has become a staple of modern conventions: the video biography. In 1992, the Clinton video was extraordinarily effective at introducing the relatively unknown governor of a small southern state to the country, and the biggest splash came from the footage of a young Clinton shaking hands with JFK. Gore, as a Senator's son, no doubt has a trunkload of pictures with the president and other Democratic luminaries. But the downside is that the Gores' social status robs him of the compelling backstory that Clinton's hardscrabble upbringing brought to his own biopic. Clinton came from "a place called Hope." Gore spent most of his childhood in a place called Washington. Will that merit even a mention in his bio -- or will it be buried, like the fact that Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar was buried in his 1992 video?

Tipper: If the Dems have any hope of repeating the enthusiasm of the 1992 conclave, their secret weapon may be the candidate's wife, Tipper. A longtime Deadhead and former drummer in an all-girl band, Tipper will be introduced by the Grateful Dead's percussionist, Mickey Hart, and a variety of other drummers before she, in turn, introduces her husband. It's the first look many Americans will have of the candidate's wife, and Dems are hoping her bubbly enthusiasm will wear well with the voters. They're also hoping that the public will somehow get the message that the Gores have a vibrant and loving relationship. She humanizes her husband. That's how the party is using Tipper.

Your Pal, Al: Gore has an interesting task ahead of him in his acceptance speech on Thursday night. He must convince voters that he is a strong and decisive leader despite the eight years he has spent as Bill Clinton's sidekick. But he also has to convince the public that he is a genuinely likeable guy, not the stiff, boring policy wonk that Americans have seen since 1992. Hmmm... a warm and fuzzy authority figure -- not a complete contradiction in terms, but certainly a reach for all but the most talented of politicians. Can Gore do it? Yes, if he can sell himself as someone who fights for the common man not because he enjoys a good fight, but because he feels their pain.

Clinton comparisons: On Monday night, Bill Clinton set the standard that all other speakers have been measured by. As far as Gore is concerned, is the bar set too high? The comparisons between Gore and Clinton and inevitable -- but which Clinton is the right one to look back to? The grey-haired leader who showed up for a victory lap on Tuesday? The laid-back incumbent who promised to build a bridge to the 21st century in 1996? The enthusiastic visionary who wowed the crowd in 1992? Or -- heaven forbid -- the Bill Clinton of 1988, who gave a tedious stemwinder in 1988 that has gone down in the books as the worst nominating speech in recent memory? Unfortunately for Gore, he will have to measure up against each of those Clinton yardsticks -- at turns confident, dynamic, ebullient, and feisty. Do any of those words come to mind when you think of Al Gore? Didn't think so.


Thursday, August 17, 2000

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