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At the Peabody, Gore preaches for his cause

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The setting was a big ballroom at the elegant Peabody Hotel, but it felt like a small, crowded church.

Instead of walking in to the beat of an old rock song, as he usually does, Vice President Al Gore arrived to the sounds of Billy Rivers and the Angelic Voices.

"We are ready for Tuesday!" declared Bill Adkins, the pastor at the Greater Imani Christian Church and the master of ceremonies for the Democratic prayer breakfast. "Can I get a hallelujah, then?"

"Hallelujah!" shouted the crowd.

Phil Driscoll, who was introduced as "the one and only trumpet player for God," told the crowd of 1,000 that the nation needs a leader "who fears God. I believe this is the man."

As Gore stepped to the podium, his wife, Tipper, handed him a Bible.

With three days before the election, Gore made an urgent appeal to win his home state of Tennessee, where polls show him in a dead heat with Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

His Saturday morning appearance at the Peabody marked a change in tone from rallies of the past week.

Instead of his standard speech, which includes several attacks on Bush, Gore spoke of the nation's "rendezvous with redemption."

"Deep within us, we each have the capacity for good and for evil. I am taught that good overcomes evil if we choose that outcome," Gore said. "I feel it coming. I feel a message from this gathering that on Tuesday we're going to carry Tennessee and Memphis is going to lead the way."

He mentioned Bush's economic policies and tax cuts, but his speech was mostly about faith and soul.

"We've left Egypt, but we have not arrived at Canaan," he said. "Now is the time for us to keep the faith and move forward."

In a retort to critics who say he is too stiff, Gore told the home-state crowd, "You know me, you know my heart. You know that God sees the inside and not the outside. You know it doesn't matter whether my coat is on or off, what color suit I wear, what kind of tie I put on. You don't care about the facial expressions I have, or whether" -- he breathed heavily in the microphone, mocking his habit in the first debate -- "I sigh."

With sweat glistening on his forehead, he told the crowd, "You might even forgive me if I sometimes get a little impatient with the pace of justice, because you know me and you know what is in my heart."

But Gore was back to his usual political self when he arrived in Huntington, W.Va., for an airport rally Saturday afternoon.

He vowed to "be a president for the working people" and he reassured the crowd that he did not want to "take guns out of the hands of hunters, sportsmen and law-abiding citizens."

He lashed out at Bush for his comment Thursday that Social Security was not a federal program.

"It wasn't a slip of the tongue," Gore said. "It was an expression of ingrained hostility to our ability as Americans to work together to better ourselves for the instruments of self-government that our founders wrote into the Constitution."

He said Republicans preferred "a dog-eat-dog, every-person-to-himself mentality that works fine for the very wealthy, but does not work very well always for those who are struggling to get by."

Saturday night, he visited a predominantly black church in Pittsburgh and spoke about civil rights issues such as a hate crimes law and the flying of the Confederate flag over the Capitol in South Carolina. Gore reminded the congregation that the next president could appoint several Supreme Court justices.

"When my opponent, Gov. Bush, says he'll appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court, I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written -- how some people (slaves) were considered three-fifths of a human being," Gore said.

He concluded with a rally at a Pittsburgh union hall in which singer James Taylor performed Fire and Rain as a few raindrops fell from the sky.

Taylor, apparently referring to Ralph Nader's complaints that the two parties are too similar, said, "There is a huge difference, there is a vast difference in who we choose to take us forward. Go out there and wake somebody up! Wake up America!"

Gore is scheduled to visit Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa today, and return to Florida, with a stop in Tampa, on Monday.

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