The Longest Shot; Measuring Al Gore Jr. for the White House

Article excerpt


The windows were rolled up but Albert Gore Jr. didn't care. The 38-year-old senator from Tennessee, a rising star of the Democratic party, and a man Sen. Jay Rockefeller says simply, "is going to be the president,' sat screaming behind the wheel of his Pontiac 6000 Sedan. "Will you move, please?' Gore yelled to the driver of a car that blocked him in. "Will you please move?'

Gore was parked on M Street in downtown Washington, in front of the CBS television studio where he had just finished taping an interview on the homeless for "Nightwatch.' It was 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon and he had less than ten minutes to get back to the Senate for a vote on a product liability bill. Window down. Scream repeated. Car moved. Gore peeled away from the curb. At K street he ran a red light; at Pennsylvania Avenue, another. After weaving into oncoming traffic, the senator backed down only after seeing an ambulance, sirens blaring, coming head on. "Senator runs into ambulance,' he said, swinging back into the traffic flow. "Senator yields.'

Al Gore rarely yields. Pulling into the Capitol parking lot with time to spare, Gore said, "There's a section in the Constitution that allows for this. A senator on pressing business cannot be stopped.'

Albert Gore, according to friends and enemies alike, is on very pressing business. In four terms in the House of Representatives, Gore made a name for himself for being aggressive, pragmatic, and thorough. "There is no one in public life who sets about learning the issues as systematically and relentlessly as Al,' says Martin Peretz, editor-in-chief of The New Republic and one of Gore's old college professors. "In the next decade Al Gore will be the most talked about Democrat and deservedly so,' says Norman Ornstein, research scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Even Republicans applaud Gore. "He's a terrific politician, who's very tenacious and always in control,' says James Henry, chairman of the Tennessee Republican party. Adds Victor Ashe, who was drubbed by Gore in the race for the Senate seat vacated by Howard Baker in 1984: "He's bright, intelligent, and will be on the national ticket within a decade.'

Washington, of course, is a town that thrives on overstatement. Being a political golden boy and being called one can be two very different things. After all, a quick perusal of his legislative record could leave the impression that despite the accolades, Gore is little more than a blow-dried Bob Forehead. In 1984, Gore went on record in favor of organ transplants; in 1985, he lobbied for an Office of Critical Trends Analysis and took the rock band Twisted Sister to task for writing obscene lyrics; this year he has introduced a bill on the homeless and has been named co-chair of a congressional task force on illiteracy. When it comes to motherhood issues, Al Gore takes a stand.

And then there's the grooming. The son of a former senator, Al Gore's resume appears calculatedly perfect. He married his high-school sweetheart and studied political science at Harvard. He went to Vietnam and law school. Gore even went to divinity school, for heaven's sake. Bad habits? Gore jogs every day, doesn't drink coffee, and snacks on apples, pears, and carrots. And he looks like a thoroughbred. His features are sharp and statesmanlike; his eyes deep and sincere. One look at his thick brown hair and you know he's never had a cowlick.

But could a mail-order politician garner such rave reviews? People don't just say Gore is a good politician; they say he's going to be president. Even the most cynical must wonder how this could possibly be.

Politics and war

The place to start looking for the answer is, of course, in a one-room schoolhouse--this one in Possum Hollow, Tennessee. From there, Al Gore's father emerged to become one of the nation's great liberals. Albert Gore Sr. …