Gore keeps up boost, wins fans
©New York Times
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2000
WASHINGTON -- In the three weeks since he faced open criticism at the Democratic National Convention about his centrist platform and running mate, Vice President Al Gore has silenced much of the grumbling among core Democratic constituencies and generated an unexpected level of enthusiasm, political analysts and Democratic activists say.
In the past week alone, Gore has picked up endorsements from two groups that had been considering sitting out the race, or even endorsing Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate: the Teamsters and the Friends of the Earth, a liberal environmental group. And an array of polls show that his support among Democrats has risen significantly in recent weeks, helping to sustain a post-convention bounce that many Republicans had expected to fade.
Some consolidation of the party's base was inevitable as more Democrats began focusing on the race after Labor Day. But the vice president has clearly helped his case among traditional Democrats, including union members, environmentalists, blacks and liberals, by heavily spicing his stump speeches with populist anti-corporate language, and by focusing his message on the concerns of working Americans and middle-class families.
As a result, some of Gore's loudest skeptics a month ago are now talking about how comfortable they are with his agenda, how confident they are about his chances and how enthusiastic they are about getting out his vote.
"What is clear to me is that our members desperately want Al Gore to get elected," said Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group. "Partly it is because they are afraid of George Bush, yes, but it is also because they believe in the core values Al Gore espouses."
Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration who supported Bill Bradley in the Democratic primaries and criticized Gore in the American Prospect last month, said of the vice president on Friday: "He's made all the right moves. He's shifted in exactly the direction he needed to go to make people more interested in him."
Gore's populist style was on display Friday as he toured a United Parcel Service warehouse in Atlanta where many of the workers were blacks and members of the Teamsters. Calling for an increase in the minimum wage and targeted tax cuts for middle-class families, Gore told 100 workers, "I'm in this race for the families that are trying to pay the bills, the single parents, the working men and women."
Many polls have shown Gore gaining strength among Democratic voters in the past month. A New York Times/CBS News survey held before the conventions showed him supported by 75 percent of self-identified Democrats, compared with Gov. George W. Bush's 86 percent support among Republicans. But after the Democratic convention, Gore's backing among Democrats jumped to 84 percent.
The return of those Democrats to Gore's column has helped him pull even with Bush. At the same time, the vice president seems to be draining away voters from Nader, in part because of a growing optimism about Gore's chances, Democrats say.
"Before, it was, well, he can't win, so we might as well go to Nader," said Gloria Allred, a civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles who is a leader of the liberal wing of the California Democratic Party. "But now that the race is narrowing, people are beginning to feel Gore does have a chance. And they are saying: "We can make a difference; it's important to vote for him. And if he loses, it will be on our heads.' "
Relations between liberals and Gore, a longtime leader of the party's centrist wing, are not entirely smooth. For instance, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., who has criticized the lack of black agents on Gore's Secret Service detail, asserted in a statement last month that the vice president's "Negro tolerance level has never been too high."
The statement was issued in response to a civil suit brought by three black Secret Service agents against the government. Ten black agents last week called on Gore to show "moral leadership" on the matter. Asked about the statement on Friday, McKinney disavowed it, calling it a draft never intended for release.
But such potholes aside, the Gore campaign has been moving swiftly to consolidate his support among blacks and other core Democrats. Today, some of his chief aides, including Donna Brazile, the campaign manager, will meet in Chicago with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to plot get-out-the-vote strategies in black and Hispanic communities.
Jackson's son, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat from Chicago who had been critical of Gore during the Democratic convention, said Friday that the vice president's shift toward discussing "working-family issues" had eased liberal concerns about the ticket and its centrist platform.
Some black Democrats and union officials had complained about Gore's selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate because Lieberman has been critical of affirmative action and staked out centrist positions on school vouchers, military spending and Social Security.
But in interviews over the past two days, many Democrats said Lieberman has allayed many of their concerns. And they asserted that his popularity has grown within their communities.
"Among African-Americans, it has given Gore a real boost," said Assemblyman Roger Green, a black Democrat from New York who supported Bradley in the primaries, referring to Lieberman's selection. "It demonstrated vision and courage about diversity."
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