Gore Presses The Flesh In New Hampshire
NASHUA, N.H. (March 6) -- Vice President Al Gore spent Friday speaking to school children and business leaders alike while pressing the flesh in local communities during a campaign-style swing through New Hampshire, a state politically important for its first-in-the-nation primary.
Gore's first trip to New Hampshire in six months was supposed to be a chance to leave Washington behind and escape all the fuss about President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and a new congressional report recalling questions about Gore's own 1996 fund-raising.
But reports Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung is prepared to tell U.S. authorities that businessmen from the People's Republic of China provided some of the suspicious money Chung gave the Democratic National Committee could add to the finance cloud hanging over Gore.
Yet the vice president stayed on message, while working to build grassroots support. Surrounded by school children, Gore promoted adminstration initiatives like after-school child care.
And speaking to New England environmental and business leaders, the vice president returned to one of his pet issues of the environment. He said protecting natural resources and preserving a strong economy go hand in hand
"Here, where we take such pride in the beauty of our natural world, we have found that the environment and the economy really are the same thing, part of the same fabric," he said. "By strengthening one, we strengthen the other."
Amidst his talk of good economic times and popular programs, Gore doesn't mention the obvious: that before long he'll be back asking for votes in New Hampshire's leadoff presidential primary.
Nevertheless, Gore is hoping to inherit the president's deep reservoir of New Hampshire support, not to mention the backing of the state's Democratic governor Jeanne Shaneen. "[Shaheen] is demonstrating that the right values coupled with absolute competence and great skill can do wonders for a state," Gore said.
The trip's main political event will be held Friday night, when the vice president presents the keynote speech at a state Democratic party fund-raising dinner.
Gore was well received but the locals are in no rush to make up their mind. Particularly since presidential wannabes are around every corner, or will be soon.
Though two years away, the 2000 race is considered wide open and hopefuls have flocked to the Granite state:
Republican Steve Forbes and his flat tax have been back. Rep. John Kasich (R-Ohio) and Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) have popped in for a visit. Former Vice President Dan Quayle has been here. So has Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), twice. Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) will be back again Monday. The man who has logged the most miles so far? Lamar Alexander.
In the meantime, Gore's staff is urging him to loosen up, talk more about himself, and are watching closely on trips like this when there's still time if it isn't done just right the first time, to try again.
CNN's John King contributed to this report.