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Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2000 / 8 Kislev, 5761

Roger Simon

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Watching Gore disintegrate -- EVERY DAY, Al Gore strives to make his life the one thing it cannot be: normal.

After sleeping eight hours, he gets up, he eats breakfast -- he really does like Wheaties -- and he works out. He runs.

He does 150 push-ups and 100 sit- ups. He lifts weights. He climbs a Stairmaster. The only medicine he takes is vitamins.

To combat stress, he listens to music, meditates or prays.

And each day, the Office of the Vice President puts out the same e-mail to the media: "The Vice President has no public events on his schedule. ..."

Which is not to say Gore does not go out in public. He does. A good place to get trampled last Wednesday was any place between Gore and a TV camera.

On that single frenzied day he seemed to hit about every TV outlet except the Home Shopping Network.

On the "Today Show" with Claire Shipman, he said the odds are "still 50-50" that he will win the election.

On CBS with Dan Rather, he said: "I'm fighting for a simple principle, Dan: Once the votes have been legally cast they have to be counted."

On NBC with Tom Brokaw, he said: "I want to win. I make no bones about that. But far more important is the principle that the next president should be legitimate -- legitimized in an election in which every vote that is legally cast is counted."

On ABC with Peter Jennings, he said, "I think this is going to be over with by the middle of December."

The central divide between the Bush and Gore campaigns is whether the votes in Florida have been counted.

The Bush campaign contends they have all been counted at least once and some have been counted more than that.

The Gore campaign says running ballots through a machine produces thousands of ballots that never get counted and that those thousands must be counted by hand.

(By the way, Rupert So over and over again on TV, Gore used a folksy anecdote to make sure his position was not only understandable but compelling: "You know, if you go through a supermarket checkout line ... and you put all your items through the scanner, every once in a while the clerk stops and says, 'The scanner -- the computer's not picking this one up.' They don't just set that aside and refuse to let you have it or give it to you for free. They write down the amount by hand. And that's because computers make mistakes."

There was a certain irony to the TV blitz: Gore's ability to perform in public was once considered his greatest weaknesses but now, after more than a year of campaigning, he and his aides consider it one of his greatest strengths.

And the Gore people watch the polls not as a sign of what they should do but as a sign of how well Gore is making his case to the public. The polls they like to cite show the greatest disconnect between the media's talking heads and public sentiment since the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Then, the media wondered why the public was not more outraged. Today, the media is wondering why the public is not more panicked. (In both cases, it may be that the public is more mature than the talking heads.)

A New York Times/CBS poll taken last week shows that the public is "not overwhelmingly distressed" and what distress there is "was concentrated among the Republicans," with Democrats willing to wait for the legal and political maneuvering to play out.

Gore, his closest aides insist, is unwavering in the belief that he is fighting a good and worthwhile fight.

"While the rest of us have been going through highs and lows, he maintains the same objective, analytical mood throughout," said his spokesman Chris Lehane. "He has one strategy and believes it is a very, very compelling one: Count every vote."

A story last week by The Associated Press quoted one identified person who has seen Gore recently as saying Gore is now a "lost soul."

His aides vigorously deny it, but even if he is lost, he is not lonely. He is surrounded every day by family, aides, his running mate and such "drop-by" guests as U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-NE, who on impulse diverted his regular jog one day to the gates of the Naval Observatory and, once inside, sat down for coffee with Al and Tipper.

Kerrey said he found Gore "very much in contro," but living in the real world.

"This is a man who understands he may lose," Kerrey said.

Kerrey, himself, is patient but gloomy, saying Gore should fight on to mid-December but added that Bush seems to be beating Gore with a strategy of running out the clock. "I think he's playing a losing hand," Kerrey said of Gore.

Gore does not believe it. Not yet, anyway.

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