Gore Plays on Iowa Stage for Second Time This Year
By Ceci Connolly
Outside the confines of Washington, Vice President Gore today had a chance to just be himself: computer geek, tobacco buster, fund-raiser.
It was Gore's second trip of the year to the state that hosts some of the first presidential caucuses, and despite all the talk about important policy matters, the day-long visit was an early dress rehearsal, complete with costume changes, for his likely presidential bid in 2000.
Although the next Election Day is far from the minds of most Americans, Iowans are already witnessing a steady stream of aspiring candidates. The state Republican Party is promising visits by at least 10 possible contenders between now and mid-December, while some in the state are joking that Democratic Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri has all but taken up residence here.
So even threatening weather high winds that forced him to abandon Air Force Two and take to Interstate 80 could not dampen Gore's plow-ahead determination to join his likely opponents in the Iowa political dance.
"I have been looking forward to Net day," Gore gushed to students and parents gathered at the Dysart Middle School to lay cable for Internet connections. Dressed in a green work shirt, khaki pants and hiking boots, Gore scaled a ladder and disappeared into an opening in the ceiling, where he funneled the cable wire into an adjacent room.
"All right, bring it on, Julie," he called to a blue-jean clad teenager.
Later, the vice president praised the group of volunteers gathered in the school library, describing their efforts as the modern day equivalent of an Iowa barn-raising.
"I'm gonna tell the story of Dysart," he said. "What I've seen here today with students doing the jobs themselves is really inspiring."
From his anti-tobacco forum in Waterloo to a fund-raising dinner in Des Moines, today's visit was replete with the trappings of a campaign swing aides with walkie talkies hustling reporters in and out of vans, big-name escorts such as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and a genuine Iowa native to serve as Gore's local emissary.
"Traveling with me is a native of Blackhawk County," Gore said in, not surprisingly, Blackhawk County. And Lynn Cutler isn't just any Iowa native, he noted; she works in the White House. Left unspoken was the fact Cutler has been a player in Iowa presidential politics for more than 25 years and will likely help him navigate the political shoals as he woos other influential activists.
As further evidence Gore is shifting into campaign mode, he opened the tobacco event by acknowledging a long list of lesser-known officeholders in the audience. Gripping a cue card, he greeted two mayors, the attorney general, the county supervisors, an official with the American Cancer Society, an assistant energy secretary, the head of NASA, Harkin, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R) and several wives.
This was the second of four tobacco forums Gore is hosting this fall as part of the administration's push for legislation that would reduce teenage smoking and devote money paid by tobacco companies for health care and prevention. With a microphone clipped on his suit lapel, he told about 110 people in Waterloo that past efforts to curtail youth smoking "have not been enough to break through."
Missing from today's session was a fake black lung Gore sometimes uses as a prop. Instead, he came armed with a new statistic to dramatize the toll smoking has taken on the country. Recounting last year's crash of TWA Flight 800, which killed 230 people, Gore said: "Imagine that four of those planes crashed in the same day. . . . Four of 'em every day. Every single day!"
Gore blamed the tobacco companies. "Since they're losing three or four jumbo jets full of customers every day, they gotta load up on new customers by getting these children hooked."
The Republican Congress has been slow to embrace the idea of anti-tobacco legislation, but Gore may have scored a quiet victory today with the presence of Grassley, who asked the vice president to send a message to youngsters like his own grandson Patrick who was seated in the audience.
"Smoking's bad, Patrick," Gore said in a deep baritone.
But the real purpose of the trip was Gore's keynote address at the Des Moines Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, an annual fund-raiser for the state Democratic Party. The dinner, with two private fund-raising receptions before it, was expected to raise about $72,000. Before the dinner, Gore attended two receptions for Democrats who had contributed earlier to the party.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company