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Jewish World Review Oct. 26, 2000 / 27 Tishrei, 5761

Roger Simon

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Running on empty -- KANSAS CITY | I know I should be writing about serious issues that affect the lives of working and middle-class families, but when Al Gore stood outside an airline hanger in Everett, Wash., recently and gave a series of satellite interviews to TV reporters, I was allowed to listen in.

Gore stood in his shirtsleeves. There was a treeline in the background, a line of clouds atop the trees, then the mountains of the Olympic range above the clouds. As Gore spoke, a variety of planes built by Boeing, which is headquartered in Everett -- "If it's not Boeing, we're not going! -- including a new 747 destined for KLM, took off in the background.

As always, Gore was full of interesting information: "There was an eagle over the plane when we were landing," he said excitedly.

Don Porter, of KING-TV, in Seattle, asked Gore, "Are you worried about the polls?"

"I am not," Gore replied. "I have to admit that I am tempted now that all of 'em show me with the momentum and the other guy dead in the water to change my view and say, 'Oh, the polls have more significance,' but I am going to resist because I don't think so much should be made out of the polls."

Standing with John Yeager of KCPQ, making chit-chat before the camera rolled, Gore said in a similar vein: "I try to minimize the polls, but they all show me with momentum and two weeks out it's good to have that."

On camera, Gore used a mountain-climbing metaphor to describe this stage of the campaign, saying: "Right now we're at the final base camp, gettin' ready for the final ascent on the summit, and I'm pumped."

In off-camera chit-chat with Essex Porter of KIRO, Porter commented on the fine weather and Gore joked, "I'll take credit for it, part of my global warming strategy."

Asked about the possible impact of Ralph Nader's candidacy, Gore said: "I don't want to use the argument that a vote for him is a vote for Bush -- that may be true -- but I prefer to say, 'Look, I want you to look at my record and my agenda and my passion for doing the right thing, and I'll match that against anybody.' "

Gore then responded to the shouts of about two dozen people behind a fence and went over and shook hands, posed for pictures, etc. Most of the people called him "Al" and when one woman asked him, "Are you getting tired yet?" He responded, "Nooooo, I'm just getting warmed up."

Warm is clearly in a fight to not just be knowledgeable -- he has already won that contest -- but to also be likable. George W. Bush is leading in likability, however.

The Bush campaign feels that voters will follow their hearts in the voting booth, and cast a vote for the guy they like, the guy who campaigns like they think they would campaign.

"We will keep up a very energetic and aggressive campaign to Election Day; the race is too close to do otherwise," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told me. "But Gov. Bush is loose and light-hearted. People have always underestimated him. He is a very good student of this business. People say he doesn't prepare, but he prepares for what's important."

And one thing that's important, Fleischer says, is to reach voters through "non-traditional" means like appearances with Oprah, Letterman and on "Saturday Night Live." Fleischer says: "The man is very comfortable. He enjoys banter."

Which is why Bush could be heard at the beginning of last week saying to his campaign staff: "Funny people! Where are the funny people? How come I don't have any funny people?"

He was kidding. Bush needed some lines for the Letterman show, where he had a rocky time, as it turned out, fending off questions on such hilarious subjects as the death penalty, the Middle East, Bosnia, Rwanda, despoiling the environment and air pollution in Texas.

Bush was far funnier at the Al Smith Foundation dinner in New York last week, where he looked out on the fat-cat crowd and said: "Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."

Bush shared the dais with Gore, who was also very funny in his presentation. Neither man wrote his own jokes, but Bush showed he had real comedic timing and delivery.

His real trouble, however, is when he is funny without meaning to be. In LaCrosse, Wisc., standing on a square stage that was brilliantly lit from above like a boxing ring, and with a huge W painted on the canvas beneath his feet, Bush had reporters reaching for their cell phones to call in this howler: "Families is where our nation takes hope, where wings take dream."

No matter. Bush has built an image on being a regular guy, and if regular guys do damage to the English language every now and then, who cares? Not Dubya, that's for sure. "I feel good today," he tells his staff in the mornings. "It's going to be a good day. I'm looking forward to it. I'm feeling good."

And when he feels good, they feel good. "When I first signed-up for this job, I was told that Bush is a great fourth-quarter quarterback," Fleischer said. "He understands timing and pace and when to turn it on. He knows when to ratchet it up. But overall, he is a man of serene confidence."

Bush firmly believes he will win on Nov. 7, though he is taking nothing for granted and is even fighting in states where polls show Gore comfortably ahead. Bush believes he will win because he is going to get not only his base, but also independents and Democrats to come out to the polls and vote for him.

"The debate phase is over," he says, "and it's now vote r turn-out time."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate