Gore launches presidential campaign
June 16, 1999
Web posted at: 1:49 p.m. EDT (1749 GMT)
CARTHAGE, Tennessee (AllPolitics, June 16) -- Vice President Al Gore officially launched his campaign for president Wednesday in his home state, promising to make America's families the centerpiece of his effort to win the presidency.
|Chat: Vice President Gore's first online conversation as an official presidential candidate, Thursday at 4:50 p.m. EDT.
Gore reminded the crowd of about 8,000 gathered to see a native son take the first ceremonial step in a run for the nation's highest office that the economy has entered a period of robust growth since he took office as vice president but that attention now needs to focus on strengthening the American family.
"If you entrust me with the presidency, I will marshal its authority, its resources and its moral leadership to fight for America's families," he said. "With your help, I will take my own values of faith and family to the presidency to build an America that is not only better off but better. And that is why today I announce that I am a candidate for president of the United States."
Vice President Al Gore announced Wednesday that he's a candidate for the presidency
"Seven years ago, we needed to put America back to work -- and we did," the vice president said. "Now we must build on that foundation. We must make family life work in America."
Gore was introduced by his oldest daughter, Karenna Gore Schiff, who is pregnant with Gore's first grandchild and is expecting to give birth in 11 days. He was supposed to be introduced by his wife, Tipper, but she lost her voice. Gore's entire family was on hand for the occasion, including his 87-year-old mother.
The vice president's announcement tour has been carefully scripted, designed to highlight issues like the nation's robust economy, health care, crime control and education -- issues his advisers feel will play to his advantage against Republicans, especially in the competition for suburban women and other critical voting blocs.
But the theme was clearly the family. Nearly every issue Gore mentioned was in the context of the family, from strengthening the Family and Medical Leave Act to protecting the environment. Instead of budget deficits, Gore said there are new deficits in American life.
"These are our deficits now: the time deficit in family life, the decency deficit in our common culture; the care deficit for our little ones and our elderly parents. Our families are loving but over-stretched," he said.
He promised that he would protect Medicare, never privatize Social Security, raise the minimum wage and protect a woman's right to have an abortion, saying "some try to duck the issue of choice. Not me."
He also said he would push for more action to curb gun violence and work against "a culture of violence and mayhem" in the entertainment industry.
On the economy, he noted that instead of large deficits, the nation is now enjoying a large surplus due to policies implemented during the Clinton-Gore Administration and he promised to continue those efforts.
"I will balance the budget or better, every year," he said. "I will search out every last dime of waste and bureaucratic excess. I know how to do that."
He promised "revolutionary improvement" to the nation's public schools, including with "high-quality
preschool available to every child," reducing class sizes and making it easier for parents to save for college
tuition, tax free and inflation-free.
A half dozen AIDS protesters briefly interrupted the carefully scripted ceremony before they were ushered out by security. Their shouting briefly overwhelmed Gore's voice on live TV, who paused briefly, said "I love free speech" and continued with his address. The protesters were barely heard by most in the crowd.
Gore, often criticized for being wooden on the stump, loosened up as his speech progressed and concluded by returning to his theme of families and the future. " I need you for this journey, so together let us vow in these first long days of summer that we'll work through the night so that our children may make a clean start from the right place, a higher place, in a fresh century," he said, his voice pitch rising to a shout. He then headed down to the crowd to shake some hands.
Distancing himself from Clinton
Following the formal announcement, Gore will hit full campaign throttle with stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, California and Washington state over the next three days.
But in his use of phrases like "moral leadership" and "values and faith and family," Gore appears to be distancing himself from President Bill Clinton's character questions and position himself as a presidential figure. He mentioned Clinton only briefly in his speech
In fact, Gore says in a television interview to be broadcast Wednesday evening that Clinton's extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky was "inexcusable" and that the president had lied to him, just as he had lied to everyone else.
"What he did was inexcusable, and particularly as a father, I felt that it was terribly wrong, obviously," Gore said in an interview with ABC News that will be broadcast on "20/20." It is the vice president's most extensive remarks yet on the topic of Clinton's affair. Gore supported his boss throughout the entire impeachment process.
When asked if he believed Clinton last year when he wagged his finger and said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky," Gore said, "I didn't like that moment at all."
Bradley is lone Democratic challenger
Gore brings an impressive resume to the race: son of a senator, Vietnam veteran, eight years as a House member, eight years as a senator and six-and-a-half years as vice president.
The vice president has worked tirelessly to line up support among key Democratic constituencies like mayors, women's groups and labor organizations.
But Gore still faces a Democratic primary challenge from former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey and a few party mavericks are campaigning against the vice president. Gore's strategy calls for ignoring Bradley and guarding against an underdog upset in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"Bill Bradley is a serious politician and if Al Gore stumbles seriously, then Bradley is there to take advantage of that," said Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution.
If he gets the nomination, Gore will then face the GOP nominee and opinion polls show that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is the current Republican front-runner. Polls also show Gore losing in a hypothetical matchup against Bush.
In his speech, Gore took a verbal shot at Bush's theme of "compassionate conservatism."
"I want to keep our prosperity going, and I know how to do it. I want to do it the right way, not by letting
people fend for themselves or hoping for crumbs of compassion, but by giving people the skills and knowledge to succeed in their own right in the next century," he said.
Gore and Bush share some themes. Gore spoke briefly in Spanish, as Bush does, and both support faith-based institutions getting involved in social programs and talk about compassion in government. But Gore used foreign policy to highlight that Bush has only served as governor, saying he has been "tested" on foreign policy.
Asked Tuesday if too much attention was being paid to those opinion polls, Gore said "I think instead of 18 months before the election maybe 18 days" is when people should pay attention to polls. (Latest poll)
Bush made his debut on the campaign trail this weekend. Asked if Bush's appearances was having an impact on his campaign the vice president succinctly replied: "No."
Tony Coelho, the Gore 2000 campaign's general chairman, said the timing of the vice president's announcement, which had been expected to come later this year, did not have anything to do with the Bush campaign at all.
Gore's advantages and hurdles
While Gore brings some giant advantages to his quest for a job promotion, he also faces major hurdles, not the least of which is Bush.
There are advantages to being the vice president in a presidential election, according to Ron Kaufman, a former political director for former President George Bush.
"Air Force Two being a great one, being able to pick and choose issues at the White House that you can foster the lead on, using the Rose Garden as a backdrop, going up to Congress, being president of the Senate, tons of very, very, very substantial roles that you use symbolically to show folks that you really are a leader," Kaufman said.
But Gore also must attempt to step out of Clinton's shadow.
"Bill Clinton is valued by Americans for what he has achieved and how the country has prospered under his leadership. But he's also tried the patience of the American people and I don't think Americans will be sad to see him gone," Mann said. "Al Gore needs to send the signal that this is not about a continuation of the Clinton Administration, this is about a new Gore Administration."
Gore's challenge is a familiar one to veterans of the 1988 Bush campaign.
"George Bush was called a lap dog for Ronald Reagan," Kaufman said. "You have to overcome that. You have to overcome that by looking the voters right in the eye and have a solid reason why you are running for president."
In Gore's case, he wants a share of the credit for Clinton's policy successes but wants nothing to do with Clinton's personal shortcomings.
"It's going to be clear that he is Al Gore, he's not Bill Clinton and he's not anyone else. He's Al Gore and his strengths are going to come out," said Roy Neel, Gore's former chief of staff.
In launching his campaign, Gore used the same Smith County Courthouse where he announced his short-lived 1988 campaign for president. He was 39 then and untested on the national stage.
Gore is 51 now and ready to argue he's the most tested candidate in the race.
CNN's Jeanne Meserve and John King contributed to this report.