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Gore Coyly Steps Around 2000 Plans

By Lloyd Grove
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 21, 1997; Page D02

For Vice President Gore and his wife, Tipper, the evening was heavy with possibility.

"Our future president! Our future president!" an onlooker yelled at Gore as he and his entourage stole into Blair House before last night’s dance marathon of inaugural balls. Was this Al Gore’s dry run?

"This is exciting—in and of itself," Gore said like a shy girl at cotillion. Earlier he had confided to Ted Koppel, who is following him around with a "Nightline" crew, that if he actually did the Macarena it would be a portent of his presidential plans.

So, was he going to do it? "That’s a closely guarded secret," Tipper Gore chimed in as the second couple made their way to the limo in front of Blair House.

"You have to watch closely or you just might miss it," the vice president said with an air of mystery.

First stop was the New England Ball at the Old Post Office building. "How exciting it is to be here tonight and how exciting it is to be an American!" Gore shouted, straining his vocal cords in a manner that suggested he didn’t much care if they lasted the night. Tipper, handing her red velvet cape to a staffer, nodded and smiled. "Now it’s time to kick back and relax and party," Gore shouted some more, and this time Mrs. Gore smiled and nodded.

Then they spun each other around onstage to the strains of "The Tennessee Waltz."

In the crowd were two visitors from Northern Ireland University of Ulster—John McCaffrey, director of development, and David Kitchen, director of university programs—who said they’d flown over to be guests of President Clinton, whom they met during his visit to Ireland in 1995. "They’ve been giving us good tickets and we’ve been hanging out with the president’s stepsister," Kitchen said.

The president’s stepsister? Had they discovered yet another member of the Clinton clan?

"I think her name is Barbara," Kitchen said.

The evening was young.

Next the Gores visited the Midwestern states ball at the National Air and Space Museum. Washington lobbyist Terry O’Connell, a Vietnam veteran who wore an eye patch and a hook for a left hand ("It was an allergy—to a grenade," he explained), introduced the vice president as "the highest ranking Vietnam veteran."

"I believe he will be the first Vietnam veteran to be president," O‘Connell added, to wild cheers from the crowd and a restrained grin from Gore.

The vice president then sounded his personal call to arms. "We pledge to you we’re going to do everything we possibly can to keep moving our country in the right direction," he said.

The crowd responded with a wildly subdued cheer.

At the California (and Hawaii and Alaska) ball, the Gores were called onstage by Tony Robbins, the jut-jawed, hot-coal-walking motivational speaker who helped lift the Clintons’ morale during a visit to Camp David. Gore seemed to be getting in that California mood when he told the crowd: "Down deep in my bones, I feel that very special essence of the United States of America."

Scattered shouts came from the crowd: "2000!" The vice president then did some earnest but awkward mod dancing with his stylish spouse. Every so often he snapped a finger or clapped a hand in that very white way of his.

"You have to watch closely or you just might miss it."

Vice President Gore Pasadena lawyer Mike Stern watched appraisingly. "Four years is a long time from now," Stern said, when asked if Gore was a good bet to be president. "He looks good today. He looks presidential."

But has he peaked too early?

"I don’t think he’s had an opportunity to peak," Stern replied.

Then it was on to Florida—where Tipper wagged her finger at partygoers who shouted at her husband to do that darned Macarena.

It was at the Tennessee Ball at Union Station that Gore let down his hair. He got teary-eyed as he told a tightly packed crowd that included close friends and family, "You guys went all out to make it happen in Tennessee."

The shouts of "Gore 2000!" were frantic in their intensity. Tipper, too, took the microphone to say, among other things, "Happy Birthday, Dad." Then they did the inevitable "Tennessee Waltz," only this time they were joined by two members of the all-male Hootie & the Blowfish. The Gores stopped to point and have a good laugh.

At the youth ball across the street at the National Postal Museum, Gore had the out-of-body experience of hearing every sentence he uttered—such as "the young people of America gave Bill Clinton and me this election"—greeted with an ear-splitting primal shriek. He couldn’t resist shouting single words—"the environment!"—so he could be rewarded with this reaffirmation of his charisma.

Next, Gore and his wife engaged in a group jitterbug, sort of, with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, first lady Cora Masters Barry and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at the D.C. Armory. Mrs. Gore kept beckoning the Barrys to dance closer to them, and the vice president seemed to be trying to keep his distance. He did a turn with Norton—and then he froze like a 2-by-4.

His version of the Macarena.

Does this mean he’s running? Gore turned to his wife: "We gotta go."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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