An article S the relationship of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) to the Democratic Leadership Council. He is chairman. (Published 11/22/99)
Vice President Gore came to New Hampshire today to make two simple points: He never intended to be a politician and Bill Bradley is just another politician. But unfortunately for Gore and his handlers, neither their friends nor their foes cooperated with the plan.
On his 18th trip of the year to this state, Gore was aiming to make headlines with a moving account of his stint in the Vietnam War as an Army journalist and a fresh assault on Bradley's health care overhaul plan. The idea was to contrast his own reluctance to enter politics with what he described as Bradley's willingness to choose special interests over average Americans.
First came the attack on Bradley. Speaking to reporters after participating in a forum on pensions--where he criticized Bradley's health care plan--Gore said of the former New Jersey senator: "Has he been a champion for the pharmaceutical industry? You bet; the record speaks for itself."
Then Gore traveled to Stevens High School here, where he told several hundred students that Vietnam soured his view of government. "When I came home I was as disillusioned as anybody you ever met," he said. "As a matter of fact I thought politics was the last thing in my life I would ever do."
But even here in a gymnasium 700 miles from Washington, Gore could not escape the attacks--from centrist Democrats upset he is playing to the party's left and Republicans who charge his plans to stage "official" events next spring are a feeble attempt to campaign on taxpayers' money.
"Why should Al Gore's fund-raising problems be taken out on hard-working American taxpayers?" said Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson. "The government isn't there to pick up the tab for his failing campaign."
Gore is worried he will empty his bank account by the end of March, according to aides, and hopes to stay in the spotlight with a series of "official" announcements paid for by the government. Nicholson called that strategy an "outright breach of ethical conduct," but Gore said he is careful not to mix his vice presidential duties with his campaigning.
"I am going to be doing official events . . . to promote the administration's ideas," he told reporters. Gore noted that today's trip was paid for by his campaign and promised that any time a Cabinet secretary "campaigns" on his behalf, the campaign will pay the tab.
But Gore had little to say about the blurring of lines between governing and campaigning as officeholders such as himself use the federal bureaucracy to raise their profile. Asked directly if he felt such techniques were appropriate in the middle of a presidential election, he replied: "Sure."
At the same time, the Democratic Leadership Council sent a newsletter to 1,000 party leaders criticizing Gore for running a traditional-style primary campaign that targets liberal constituencies.
That approach, the moderate group said, "was central to the failed Democratic presidential campaigns of the 1980s" and the antithesis of President Clinton's winning strategy in 1992 and 1996. "And in 2000, unlike in 1996, it's reasonably clear the Republican nominee will be fighting for [those] swing voters from the get-go," the newsletter said.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), who is closely tied to the DLC, said the letter was a "warning sign" to the Gore camp to refocus itself on moderate, suburban voters who have decided the outcome of recent elections.
Lieberman said many of his colleagues on Capitol Hill and moderate Democrats elsewhere were alarmed by comments by Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile that the "four pillars" of the party are blacks, women, labor and ethnic minorities. But Lieberman said he was reassured in a telephone call with Gore's chief of staff Charles Burson that the vice president is committed to running on a centrist agenda.
On Saturday, Gore will get the endorsement of a centrist Democrat, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.).
At the high school here, students said they enjoyed tossing Gore questions on subjects ranging from school violence to China, though some were disappointed that he spoke only briefly about Vietnam.
"It was kind of hard to know what he really felt about it," said Emilie Ross, 15. "He could have elaborated a little more."
And back in Washington, one Democratic strategist sympathetic to the DLC position sighed: "People have given up thinking Gore is going to run a good campaign. He may still win, but it will be in spite of his campaign."