The Magazine

Al Gore, Robo-candidate

The vice president is running a relentlessly weird campaign

Jul 31, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 43 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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Thanks to weightlifting and a low-carb diet, Gore looks fit. Even so, events like this are physically demanding. (No bathroom breaks, for one thing.) They are also expensive. Gore brings along press secretaries and policy experts and schedulers. There is the press, the people who feed the press, the aides who plan the route for the motorcade, the guy who brings Gore's limousine out from Washington. And then there is the security detail -- I counted nine Secret Service agents within a 20-foot radius of Gore as he spoke. (Not to mention the huge contingent of local police wandering the empty halls of the high school.) It takes two planes to carry the whole entourage. It takes most of a day to set up for the show. Who knows how much it all costs.

Which makes you wonder: Why does Gore subject himself to this? He held open meetings in Iowa and New Hampshire during the primaries because he had to. He doesn't have to now. Nor does it seem a wise use of his time or money. At no cost to his campaign, Gore could reach far more voters in three minutes sitting alone in a television studio in Washington than he does in as many hours in a gym in Saginaw. And yet since he secured the nomination, Gore has continued to barnstorm the country hosting his own makeshift political talk show -- usually untelevised.

Bob Shrum, Gore's chief media consultant, explains the meetings as a chance for the candidate to interact with "real people." They are also, Shrum says, "a pretty good continuing drill for all the stuff he'll be dealing with in the campaign" -- meaning, for the most part, the debates. This is true too. Shrum doesn't even bother trying to defend the meetings on the usual practical grounds. "The standard notions of retail politics say they're not worth doing," he says. "But he likes them."

He must. After three hours, most of the traveling press give up and depart for the airport. Gore keeps chatting with the dozen or so citizens still standing. As the reporters walk out, he is deep in a conversation about real estate prices in Saginaw. According to his staff, once everyone finally went home, Gore stayed even later to shoot a public service announcement for local television.

Clinton used to do things like this, most famously during the primaries in 1992, when his willingness to work almost continuously helped push him to victory. But Clinton always seemed like he might be campaigning at midnight even if he weren't running for office. With Gore you get the feeling he has decided he has no choice.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.