Gore Woos Home-State Voters, Many of Whom Waltzed Off in '94
By Charles Babington
On the last day of the 1996 campaign, Vice President Gore did a political version of the Tennessee Waltz, making a four-step visit to this swing state that is courted in Tuesday's election but crucial to his presidential hopes in 2000.
Four years ago, Gore conducted an election-eve marathon that took him to more than a half-dozen states on the campaign's final day, including late-night stops in his native Tennessee. Today, Gore's schedule was far less hectic but even more devoted to his home state. He made speeches in Racine, Wis., Cleveland (where he joined President Clinton on stage), then Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis, Tenn.
Aides calculated it was his 14th campaign visit to Tennessee this year. That is a remarkable show of attention considering that it is only the 17th-largest state, with 11 electoral votes.
There are two reasons for Gore's devotion. Tennessee has remained competitive all fall, with polls giving Clinton a small lead but Republican Robert J. Dole making a last-minute appeal for votes here today. But the vice president also wants the Clinton-Gore ticket to carry Tennessee to enhance his image in the 2000 presidential sweepstakes.
"I don't think it would be an embarrassment" to lose Tennessee Tuesday, "but it would be a disappointment," said Ron Klain, Gore's chief of staff, in an interview on Air Force Two. "He would like to carry his home state."
Aides said Gore's campaign planned long ago to make election-eve stops in Tennessee's four biggest cities before the vice president retired for the night in his Carthage home. The tour took on added importance, some said, as Dole remained within striking distance and local Democrats began fretting about possible voter complacency, especially in the mid-Tennessee area around Nashville, home to many swing voters.
Unlike many states Gore has visited recently, Tennessee lacks a strong Democratic Senate nominee to help shore up the party at the top of the ticket. Houston Gordon stumped with Gore today, but he is given almost no chance of beating the popular Republican Sen. Fred D. Thompson. Thompson was one of several GOP victors in 1994, when Republicans won crushing victories all across the state and threatened to turn Gore's home base into a Republican redoubt.
Gore has tried hard to change that this year. But Dole has poured money and time into Tennessee, leaving Tuesday's outcome in doubt.
"It's a very, very competitive state that could go either way," Klain said.
Today, Gore, hoarse from his increasingly rapid-fire speechmaking, made a personal appeal to several hundred voters who met him at the Knoxville airport.
"This is a homecoming for me today," Gore said, after his wife, Tipper, introduced him. "This is my home. I have been so proud to serve Tennessee. . . . I have fought hard for Tennessee values . . . for Tennessee projects. We've always put Tennessee first. Tomorrow, I need you."
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company