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  • Tipper When Wet

    By Joel Achenbach
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, August 27 1996; Page B01

    When you jog with Tipper Gore you have to meet her in a curtained-off area by the garage under her hotel. Politicians never appear in lobbies; they are always in strange basements, starkly empty spaces, what the advance staffers call a "hold."

    Unmarked double doors swing open and she bounds into view, arms skyward, like Rocky. She's pumped! Her T-shirt exclaims "Encore!" She says, "I'd like to run out of town."

    It is fun, and thrilling, but certainly not easy being a Gore at the Democratic National Convention. She just had a book tour, 12 cities in nine days, then spent 14 hours in Washington before flying to Chicago to dive into an endless round of parties, caucuses, breakfast meetings, grip-and-grins, late-night shindigs. Schedulers forget that people must sleep. "I can't function that way," the 48-year-old wife of the vice president says flatly. "I need more sleep." Tuesday she has to speak on national television, her big convention moment.

    "I'm nervous. I'll probably run about four hours tomorrow," she says.

    She walks through the garage and past the cops and the guard dogs and takes a left onto the sidewalk. Most people don't notice her. She looks like just another jogger, only with Tipper Gore's face and hair. After a quick stretch against a wall, she takes off. Velocity-wise, she is no Michael Johnson. Some people never made the leap from jogging to running. But she's steady. She's got a smooth, short stroke. Remember, it is heart rate and duration that count, not distance and speed.

    A Secret Service agent named Clif jogs ahead, scouting trouble, while another, Dave, trails close behind.

    "They both pace themselves to me. Because I'm" -- she gives a touchdown signal -- "a star."

    "Catch the light," Dave commands from behind, and we sprint across an intersection and through a park and then to the edge of Lake Michigan, which is sparkling. People are swimming.

    "See? It's clean!" she says. "Look how clear. You can see the bottom. Nice and sandy."

    She says she might jump in after the run. But she's joking, clearly. Isn't she? It's certainly not on the schedule, so it's impossible. She just wouldn't.

    She heads along the lake, jogging on concrete. She usually runs for 30 minutes, six days a week. Recently she started lifting free weights after hearing that it cuts down on bone loss. With the election nearing, the Democratic principals are toning, honing, groaning. They have to ratchet their game up a notch. "We want to be the beautiful people of 1996," she says, puffing.

    She told the president how good he looks. He lost 15 pounds. In the second term he will, of course, start slamming cheeseburgers again, explode to 300 and require a sled for transportation.

    For Tipper Gore, life is in many ways better now than it was when her husband was a senator, she says. He used to travel to Tennessee on weekends to meet with constituents. Now he's home. They have dinner together routinely, like a normal family.

    "Family's much happier," she says, steady as she goes, neat little beads of sweat on her forehead.

    Being a Gore is different from being a Clinton. The Clintons have triple the hubbub around them. The Clintons are always being investigated, their friends deposed, subpoenaed, jailed. The veeps have glided along, relatively speaking.

    "We're ordinary people. We're normal, everyday people trying to deal with things the best way we know how," she says. "I'd like to see more civil discourse. We can disagree politically but still retain respect for one another as human beings."

    Tipper Gore has her public issues, namely getting parity for mental health care, and helping homeless people and very poor children. She's published her first book, a collection of her photographs called "Picture This." But one of her signal achievements has been to remain a human being despite the public life. The truism that politicians and public figures are "still human beings" is only technically true in some cases. Some are human only by the strictest biological criteria -- they are carbon-based and have circulatory systems.

    President Clinton is enormously human, almost to the point of overkill -- he surrounds people with his humanity, engulfs them, until after a few hours they have vanished entiredly, dissolved. Vice President Gore is secretly human -- stiff and robotic in public, he is funny and quick away from the cameras. Hillary Rodham Clinton's loyal staffers insist that she is human if you really get to know her -- which, of course, they would never permit. But no one among the Democratic principals is as approachable, unpredictable and spontaneous as Tipper Gore.

    As evidence: The lake. Cool and inviting.

    She stops running, takes off her shoes and jumps in.

    Tipper Gore has jumped into the lake!

    "It's a clean lake!" she says.

    She goes under.

    The Secret Service guys watch from the shore. They are thinking: Killer fish. Giant eels. Ravenous sturgeon. They are kicking themselves for not conducting a sweep of Lake Michigan.

    "Is my mascara running?" she asks a reporter who has jumped into the lake to continue the interview (something you cannot imagine, for example, David Brinkley doing). Indeed her mascara is running. (Exclusive! A scoop!) There will come a day when anyone wishing to occupy the White House or the vice president's mansion will be forced to go through this lake ritual; you can't really trust a person until you've seen him or her wet.

    Dave and Clif on shore are pointing to their watches. She has to be talking to a group of delegates in about 20 minutes, and they will all be wearing power suits and their hair will not be plastered to their heads with lake water. At some juncture, Dave and Clif are communicating, she needs to expedite her exit from this here lake.

    She wades back to land and puts on her shoes and spends a few minutes drying in the sun while people look at her and try to act as if they saw famous people jump in the lake all the time.

    The campaign in 2000? She doesn't want to talk about that.

    "You can't count on anything. Your life can change in a split second."

    And so Tipper Gore, wet or dry, lives very much in the present. This moment right now.

    © Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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