U.S. Sen. Al Gore sought to portray Democrats as defenders of the middle class against Republican indifference during his address at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Glen Burnie.
Recalling an outpouring of sympathy from Maryland residents in 1989 when his son was hit by a car leaving an Orioles game, Gore contrasted the two parties' positions on efforts to legislate parental leave rights to attend to newborn or sick children.
"The Republicans almost to a person said, 'No,' " said Gore, who placed a distant third in the Maryland presidential primary election in 1988. "We Democrats stand with the working men and women of this country. We'll always stand with them, and we'll fight for them."
Asecond-generation senator from Tennessee and self-described "raging moderate," Gore has been touted as a potential presidential nominee able to hold the votes of more conservative Democrats and crossover Republicans.
He was the only Democrat from the seven-man primary in 1988 to support President Bush's decision to use force in the PersianGulf and has a strong pro-defense record.
But during a brief interview Wednesday night, Gore disavowed the notion that he would be thestandard bearer of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group formedto promote an alternative to the liberal presidential nominees the party has sent to crushing defeat in the past three elections.
"If I run for president, it will be a candidacy based on the ideals and principals of the Democratic Party, not one part," he said.
Gore did embrace the DLC's rejection of hiring quotas for minorities, but hestressed that employment goals and objectives are fair ways to pursue civil rights.
Gore is generally recognized as a strong proponentfor environmental protection and energy conservation.
He won someof his strongest applause when he said, "We've got to follow the lead of (Rep.) Tom McMillen, (D-4th,) and (U.S. Sens.) Paul Sarbanes andBarbara Mikulski and clean up the Chesapeake Bay."
But during theinterview, he also said that environmental regulation would be enhanced by a "sharper definition of what is and what is not a wetland."
The White House is considering a new definition proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that critics say would drop federal protection over millions of acres.
Gore began his speech in the style of a courtly Southern gentleman, saying, "I'd like to turn to political philosophy, if I may."
But his voice rose in pitch and volume as he leaned into the microphone to deliver a series of populist punchlines criticizing Bush and the Republicans for opposition to health-care reform, tax relief for middle class and poor Americans and civil-rights legislation.
"We face a syndrome that's worse than the Vietnam syndrome. I call it the Republican syndrome," Gore said. "They have a cannot-do attitude when it comes to problems here at home."
But some of his strongest supporters suggested that such rhetoric won't help Gore if he decides to challenge President Bush in the 1992 election.
"He's got to tone down the Bush-bashing because it's not going to do him any good," said Assistant State's Attorney Trevor Kiessling, a former county Democratic Central Committee member who backedGore in 1988.
Democratic state Sen. Michael Wagner said, "Republicans run their party like the Democratic clubs used to do. They play to what's popular, not what's right. We have to play to what's popular to get in to do any good."