By David S. Broder
On a three-day California swing that concluded with his return to Washington early yesterday, Gore lived by the precept he had laid down. He worked conscientiously -- and often enthusiastically -- through a packed schedule of events that advanced the Clinton administration domestic agenda and, not so incidentally, strengthened his own ties with constituencies that will be important to him when he seeks the presidency in 2000.
He never faltered in his concentration on the matters at hand or in his avoidance of Topic A: what type of relationship Clinton had with former White House intern Lewinsky. As Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), who tagged along with the vice president on the first half of his weekend schedule, remarked, "Al is handling himself magnificently. It can't be easy for him -- with his strict moral standards."
Lantos recalled an expression from his childhood that seemed apt: "As the Hungarians say, 'It is hard to ride two horses with just one rear end.' "
Gore is playing the loyal deputy role to the hilt. Last Tuesday, when Clinton gave his State of the Union address, Gore, seated in his place behind the president, jumped up to lead congressional Democrats in applause scores of times. The next day, introducing Clinton to crowds in Illinois and Wisconsin, he abandoned his usual measured tone and cadence and shouted exhortations to "stand by" his man.
As long as tales of sexual impropriety and the more serious allegations of perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice do not damage Clinton's support, Gore has an advantage over every other possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2000. He is Clinton's chosen heir. But as his political aides acknowledge, some of the Democratic incumbents who will be on the ballot this November are showing "nervous wobbles" already about the possible fallout of the Lewinsky case and the Paula Jones trial. If the president's troubles deepen and those Democrats begin to bail out, Gore is stuck, the aides admit.
"He believes the president," one said, "and he believes in the president. He will be the last man overboard."
Meantime, he is happy to hand out treats from the Clinton budget to one and all. On Saturday, he gave Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and a passel of other city and state officials the word that parts of this city have been designated as "empowerment zones," entitling them to tax breaks and other federal assistance. Via satellite, he did the same thing with Cleveland Mayor Michael White.
With Clinton's blessing, Gore has used his supervisory role in the "empowerment" program to cement alliances with more than a dozen big city mayors who were not previously his pals. That will come in handy if House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) or another urban liberal Democrat challenges him for the nomination.
On the tour, he also held budget-preview events that linked him with health researchers, school people, law enforcement officials and other such groups. He met with union leaders, Latino community spokesmen and Jewish notables -- all of whom play a key part in the politics of California and all of whom have business to transact with the administration.
Perhaps more important for the future, Gore held three closed-door conversations of a couple hours each with small groups of people from the high-tech world -- venture capitalists who fund start-up companies, men and women who are pushing the frontiers of alternative energy and biological research, and the young multimedia innovators of Hollywood.
He calls them his "Goretechs," and after a dozen such meetings across the country in the past year, they number in the hundreds. Fascinated since his Harvard days by the intersection of science and technology with public policy, Gore has impressed the successful post-industrial pioneers with the seriousness of his interest in, and knowledge of, their world. In turn, Gore has begun to lure many of them into discussions of education, urban problems and national security.
One of them, Arthur D. Levinson, the CEO of Genentech Inc., hailed Gore at the company headquarters on Thursday as a man who "20 years before others, saw the potential in computers and, as a member of the House, held the first congressional hearings on biotechnology. . . . He is the proud patron of innovation."
This is, as Gore well knows, a unique and potentially powerful network, a source of campaign funds and ideas that no one else in either party has cultivated as eagerly as he has.
Last autumn, Bernd Schwieren, a consultant to California Assembly Minority Leader Curt Pringle, wrote a memo warning his fellow Republicans that the GOP was losing support among voters in the rapidly growing ranks of information age jobs. Politically moderate and independent, mostly young and male, he said, they are turned off by the influence of religious conservatives in the Republican Party but are skeptical of old-line, labor-liberal Democrats as well.
For Gore, whose enthusiasm for the high-tech-driven New Economy and understanding of the science and technology behind it are probably unmatched among boomer politicians, this is a made-to-order constituency.
Their support can help him in Democratic primaries against a more traditional Democrat like Gephardt and allow him to compete against a less visionary Republican in a general election.
Significantly, it was one of the "Goretechs" who raised the only question the vice president heard all weekend about Clinton's situation. As participants in the closed-door meeting Friday in San Jose later recalled, one executive asked toward the end of their futuristic dialogue with Gore, "Why isn't Washington talking about these issues instead of all this other nonsense?"
Gore replied: "We just have to let this other thing run its course."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company