Please don't leave me, don't you go
Gore's groveling for votes. Bradley's barely asking. What's more
By Eric Pooley/Hanover
November 1, 1999
Web posted at: 12:11 p.m. EST (1711 GMT)
Except for his name and party affiliation, Al Gore has now
changed just about everything a struggling candidate can change:
clothes, consultants, message, manner. But his campaign theme
song--the cheesy tune that blares at every Gore 2000
event--still needs work. He started with Shania Twain's Rock
This Country, but it only reminded people that the country isn't
rocking for him. Since shelving Shania, Gore has used the soul
anthem Love Train--a call to unity that rings hollow with
Democrats still divided about the nomination. But there's hope.
At the New Hampshire "town hall" forum with Gore and Bill
Bradley last week, it was obvious what song captures Gore's new
mood: the old Motown hit Ain't Too Proud to Beg.
Stalking the stage of Dartmouth College's Moore Theater,
grinning fiercely and sweating like the hardest-working man in
show business, Gore seemed stoked enough to belt the words
himself: "I know you wanna leave me,/ but I refuse to let you
go." He wanted to tell voters who have dumped him for Bradley
that he'll do anything to win them back. Of course, since this
was Al Gore talking, the words came out a bit differently: "I
would like to have your support for me," and "Fighting for all
the people--that's what I want to do," and finally, "I would
like to work hard; if you elect me President, I will work hard."
Which is just the Vice President's way of saying, "Please, baby,
please, baby, please, baby, please."
"In the last six or eight weeks," he said, "I've had a learning
experience." Make that a near-death experience--that vertiginous
moment when a politician looks into the near future, sees himself
writing his memoirs and responds with a frenzied attempt to
connect. In the last days of the 1992 campaign, President Bush
had that kind of revelation and jetted around the country, waving
his arms and shouting himself hoarse. Gore's memento mori has
come earlier in the cycle, so unlike Bush, he has time to come
down from his adrenaline rush and make his case in a calmer
Last week the ache was unmistakable--and even touching--but the
300 media types watching in the press room at Dartmouth were, to
use the appropriate technical term, totally grossed out by it.
Whenever Gore came on too strong, the room erupted in a
collective jeer, like a gang of 15-year-old Heathers cutting
down some hapless nerd.
Poor Gore. For months the press has been hammering him for
taking the nomination for granted and not showing emotion. Now
it's hammering him for trying too hard and showing too much. Of
course he was sometimes overbearing at Dartmouth--asking
faux-Clintonian personal questions ("How old is your child,
Corey?") and then, after the event, sitting on the lip of the
stage for 90 minutes to expound--impressively, by the way--on
policy until everyone was exhausted, and Tipper said, "Al, I'm
going to have to go." But the interesting question isn't whether
Gore's exhibitionism is a tactic (it is) but whether groveling
works any better in politics than it does in love.
There's some evidence that it might. In the month since Gore
began rending his garments in public, his poll numbers have
stabilized against Bradley's and risen against George W. Bush's.
Americans tend to reward candidates who are hungry for the
job--fire in the belly and all that. But if anyone can prove
it's possible to try too hard, it's Gore. And if anyone can
prove the counterargument--that a cool new paradigm is emerging
this year--it may be Bradley, the candidate who seems not to be
trying at all. He is too proud to beg. When he asked for votes
at Dartmouth, here's how it came out: "I would hope you'd feel
that I would be your candidate." And if not, he can live with
Among the Republicans, it's Bush who works hard at not wanting
it. All year his signature stance has been take me or leave me,
but that's easy to say when you have a 40-point lead. Last week,
with that lead thinning in New Hampshire, he pretended to regret
blowing off a G.O.P. candidates' forum, but no one believed him.
The other candidates are getting the message. At the forum, when
Steve Forbes made his pitch for votes, he said, "I would beg
you." Then he corrected himself: "I ask for your support."
But Bradley remains the master of dispassion--a post-Clinton
pose that has fueled his candidacy. At Dartmouth, when Gore
attacked Bradley's health-care plan as too costly (citing a
supposedly "nonpartisan" study written by his former adviser),
Bradley scarcely seemed to care. "We each have our own experts,"
he sighed. Now Bradley is realizing that higher octane may be
required. Bradley's staff, which at Dartmouth scoffed at Gore's
rapid-response handouts ("They're fighting the last war,"
sniffed an aide), is sending out attack faxes slapping Gore for
"promises without price tags." Bradley didn't have much choice
except to engage, but it's risky--politics as usual--and maybe a
little sad. If he's not careful, he's going to let them see him
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Cover Date: November 8, 1999