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Gore Steps Out

Whatever their policy differences, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, would-be Democratic and Republican 2000 presidential nominees, share interesting similarities.

Both are sons of famous fathers - Mr. Gore's was a senator from Tennessee, while Mr. Bush's was president. Both hail from the South (although Gore grew up in Washington). And both must separate themselves from politicians the public associates them with: Bush from his father, and Gore from President Clinton.

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Gore's Wednesday kick-off speech showed the challenge he faces. He must hew to Mr. Clinton, associating himself with the administration's political and economic successes. But he must also show the gap between his own spotless behavior as a husband and father and the president's egregious failures. It may be the finest line any vice president has walked since Hubert Humphrey dealt with Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam policies in 1968.

It's also tempting to seek similarities between Gore and then-Vice President Bush in 1988. A veep always serves in his boss's shadow and must quickly define himself when the time comes. Gore lags behind both Governor Bush and Elizabeth Dole in the early polls, just as the elder Bush trailed Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.

But the two races are different. Gore's party trusts him to carry on the administration's legacy; the GOP had doubts about Vice President Bush. Governor Bush is an adept campaigner who connects with ordinary people. Gore had to define himself earlier than did the elder Bush in '88.

This week saw an effort to highlight what a fun guy the vice president is in private versus his wooden public appearances. Gore and wife Tipper gave a series of interviews in which the second lady testified to her husband's warmer side. No doubt she's right, but the fact that Mrs. Gore has to do so itself illustrates his problem.

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