Democrats' L.A. Message: Just the Facts, Ma'am ; to Persuade Public He'd Be the Better Leader, Gore Will Emphasize Issues like Education, Social Security

Article excerpt

Democrats are famous for their messy conventions - for fights inside the hall, protests in the streets, bruising conflicts over the party platform.

This year, as the Republicans did two weeks ago, the Democrats will present a unified party. And unlike the Republicans, the Democrats don't feel they have to hide their congressional leaders from the viewing public.

But in a way, the Democrats face a tougher challenge. Their presidential candidate, Vice President Al Gore, has chronically trailed in the polls throughout the campaign.

And at the very moment when Mr. Gore needs to separate his political identity from that of Bill Clinton, the president is carving out a large presence here, raising money for his presidential library and delivering what promises to be a closely watched speech tonight.

Gore also needs to rally the Democratic faithful to his cause to the

degree that core Republicans are backing their nominee, George W. Bush. Polls have shown that while 90 percent of Republican voters support the Texas governor, only 70 to 80 percent of Democrats are with Gore so far.

"Gore needs to solidify his base and emerge from the shadows of Bill Clinton," says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. "Both of them are fairly dicey goals."

The leadership thing

Throughout the campaign, the public has consistently told pollsters that they see Mr. Bush as more of a leader than Gore.

This is in part a hazard of holding the vice presidency for eight years, an understudy role that by definition does not carry an aura of leadership, even though Gore has been a key adviser and handled substantive issues in the Clinton White House.

Voters also find Bush more likeable than Gore. But don't watch for any dramatic efforts to remake Gore's personality here in Los Angeles.

Instead, remarks from Democratic strategists make it clear that the party plans to show the public that Gore is the man for the job by highlighting his stand on key issues.

Issue dissemination

The Democrats believe they have the winning positions on issues that rank at the top of voters' concerns - such as education, Social Security, and healthcare - and that, when supplied with the facts, the public will come around.

"Issue dissemination, fact dissemination," Democratic Party co- chairman Ed Rendell said at a Monitor breakfast, when asked about how to propel Gore into the lead. …