In the 30 hours Vice President Gore spent in California last weekend, he high-fived with African American youngsters, bantered in Spanish with a Hispanic reporter, banged the ceremonial drum of Asian Pacific Islanders and ate quiche (broccoli and potato) with environmentalists here in the shadow of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Call it the Al Gore constituent tour.
"If you want to protect the environment, please understand that politics is an integral part of our ecosystem," he told trendy Hollywood types and earthy activists who each gave $1,000 on Sunday to his presidential campaign. "In order to have balance in our environment, we have to have your commitment in politics."
From union halls to Univision to the United Jewish Communities; from the purchase of television ad time to the intricacies of his travel itinerary, Gore is lavishing time, money and attention on very select groups of voters.
"The four pillars of the Democratic Party are African Americans, labor, women and what I call other ethnic minorities," says Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile. "The emerging constituencies are environmentalists, gays and lesbians and those with physical disabilities."
Brazile, the first African American woman to run a major presidential campaign, has the numbers to back up the strategy. Pointing to a map on the wall of her office at Gore's Nashville headquarters, she sweeps her hand from Baltimore to Houston, a stretch of land representing 55 percent of America's black vote.
"Having the support of African Americans will enable Al Gore to lock down the nomination and begin to take on the Republican nominee," she said, noting that Gore, with the help of President Clinton, is looking to the Southern primaries as his firewall next year.
In a bulging binder are state-by-state breakdowns for delegates to next year's Democratic nominating convention. Half the delegates are women, she says, and in 1996, 25 percent came from labor. Party rules, written by a committee Brazile served on, set mandatory percentages for delegate representation in each state. In Georgia, for instance, 39 percent of the delegates must be African American.
Until this fall, Gore ran his presidential campaign as though he had already won the nomination and was moving on to the general election. But a surprisingly aggressive assault by Bill Bradley--who has made core Democratic issues such as race and child poverty central themes--forced Gore to shift back to a more traditional Democratic primary strategy, targeting groups most loyal to the party and with a strong record of turning out to vote in primaries.
Like recent trips to Iowa and Tennessee, Gore's West Coast swing offered a vivid illustration of the new strategy.
First stop Saturday: the Service Employees International Union hall in Pasadena. "I'm on your side because like you, I work for working families," Gore said to cheers.
Then he talked school safety with black children at a community center and later promised the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association he would appoint Asian Americans to his Cabinet and the judiciary.
"I want to build a 21st-century America where we banish intolerance and hatred," he said Saturday night. "We are a nation of immigrants and we are proud of it."
As his motorcade whisked from event to event, Gore offered himself as the politician best in touch with America's disenfranchised communities. "A president is the only one empowered to fight for all of the people, not the wealthy, not the special interests, not the powerful, but all of the people who don't have anybody else to fight," he said at virtually every stop. "I want to fight for you."
At Hispanic events, Gore speaks a bit of Spanish, as he did at the Los Angeles studio of Univision. "I love Ricky Martin," he told interviewer Rosa Maria Villalpando, after humming a few bars of Martin's blockbuster hit, "La Vida Loca."
And with predominantly black audiences, Gore invokes such terms as "diss," the slang for disrespect, and "DWB," street shorthand for "driving while black." He predicted one young aspiring actor would be "the next Danny Glover" and he even made a valiant attempt to dance before a boisterous African American gathering in Des Moines recently.
Critics may accuse Gore of pandering, but Brazile makes no apologies for the kind of campaigning now under way. "In a primary you go to your base," she says. "You have to identify, energize, mobilize and turn them out."
Shirley Walker, a residential care specialist in Alameda, said she wrote a check for $1,000 to Gore's campaign in part because of his willingness to listen to African Americans. "We love him, so we support him," she said at a reception Saturday.
Relying heavily on his resume and the up-by-the-bootstraps biographies of his parents, Gore's message to the party's most reliable voters is in essence: "I am one of you."
At the home of African American developer Danny Bakewell, Gore described how his father, a poor Tennessean, used education to rise above a life as a fiddler. "The poverty was all over that scene," the vice president said.
To 100 Hispanic leaders, Gore said: "Along with you, I've been walking the walk, not just talking the talk."
It is a theme the Gore camp hopes to use to attack Bradley as a fair-weather Democrat who once flirted with an independent presidential run.
"Most of these constituency groups and people who share their interest rely on someone to do things, not just proffer ideas," Gore pollster Harrison Hickman says in reference to Bradley. Brazile is more pointed. "While he's shooting hoops for $1,000, Al Gore is walking the streets of Pasadena," she said comparing Bradley's basketball fund-raiser at Madison Square Garden to Gore's visit to the Jackie Robinson Center in a diverse section of Pasadena over the same weekend. "Minorities figured out long ago they need more than symbolism to feed their families."
Even Gore's television commercials have core constituencies in mind: a spot opposing oil drilling airs along the California coast while an ad promoting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was aimed at the progressive left wing of the party. A new 60-second ad running on 265 black radio stations asserts, "Al Gore has always been there for us," citing his support of affirmative action, Carol Moseley-Braun's ambassadorial nomination and the promotion of black judges.
For the most part, the special-interest voters appreciate the special attention. But some, such as Frankie Leung, remain skeptical. "If he wants to get the vote from this group, he'll have to work harder," says Leung, a Los Angeles attorney who disapprovingly remembered Gore's 1996 fund-raising visit to the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple.
That is one reason Gore spent several hours at the Asian lawyers' dinner. Asian Americans "are a very, very important constituency that warrants special attention from the party," says Brazile. "They felt ostracized after the '96 campaign."
If sometimes Gore has trouble making a personal connection, the Clinton-Gore record is often a strong selling point. "President Clinton and I promised we would have a government that looks like America, and it does look like America," Gore said in a sermon-like address at the Memphis church where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech.
"Secretary of energy, secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce," Gore said, reading the titles like an honor roll. "Secretary of veterans affairs, secretary of transportation, secretary of labor, two surgeon generals, budget director, drug czar. . . . And soon Carol Moseley-Braun will be ambassador to New Zealand."
CAPTION: Campaigning for president in California last weekend, Vice President Gore turned his attention to African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and organized labor.