A Big Test of Presidential Timbre ; the Candidates' Different Approaches to the Electoral Drama Reveal Much about How Each Might Govern

Article excerpt

The two scenes in Washington and Texas could hardly be more different.

The central players in one of history's most riveting electoral dramas - each in his separate world, each approaching his predicament in wholly different ways - are providing fresh clues as to how they might actually govern as president.

Mr. Gore is planted at the dining table of his turreted official manse here in Washington. He's firing off e-mails on his hand-held Blackberry communications device. He's poring over fine print of Florida law. He's a one-man war room, overseeing the minutiae of his newest campaign.

Mr. Bush is mostly ensconced at his Texas ranch, far from his official residence in Austin. He's made the big strategic decisions - and his regimented staff does the rest. He's doing three conference calls a day. He's exercising. He's chatting with reporters as his barky dog, Spot, stands near. He's referring most questions about Florida to James Baker III.

As the post-election marathon enters its 15th day, those who have observed the two candidates during this period of uncertainty see strengths and weaknesses in both.

What they're doing right

Bush has managed to project an image of relaxed strength, delegating responsibility and sticking steadfastly to positions ("hand recounts are undesirable") carved out early in the process.

Gore, for his part, has shown himself adept at shaping public opinion. So far, he's brought a majority of Americans along with his assertion that counting each Florida vote is more important than deciding the winner quickly.

In particular, these analysts say, Gore's surprise speech last Wednesday night - during network news broadcasts - showed a certain adroitness and caught many, including Bush, off guard.

"Gore had a tough circumstance," says Christopher Arterton, a political scientist at George Washington University here. "He's turned it around by pretty well keeping the public's attention on the issue of fairness - rather than on the image of squabbling over votes."

Gore "did seem to have a larger view of the public interest at heart," agrees William Leuchtenburg, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Gore as 'Clintonian'?

But others characterize Gore and his party as "Clintonian" in their tactics and demeanor.

"This is an effort on a scale that we really haven't seen in presidential politics - trying to find every single vote and exploring every avenue regardless of the larger cost to the system," says Earl Black, a political scientist at Rice University in Houston.

He sees Democrats' efforts, including taking some 10,000 affidavits from disgruntled voters in Florida, as pugilistic and legal-minded - to the point of hurting the transfer-of-power process. …