FORMER SEN. ALBERT GORE Sr. of Tennessee keeps one wall of his home blank in hope it will one day be covered with pictures of the presidency of his son, former Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee. But for now, the younger Gore is content to be the most influential vice president in history while his destiny year of 2000 approaches.
For the mercurial Bill Clinton, Al Gore has been a hard-granite friend, a steadying influence in an administration given to wild swings of policy and popularity. Squeaky-clean in a White House rocked by scandal, the latest being the Dick Morris episode, he was tapped by the president to give not one but two speeches to the Democratic National Convention.
Mr. Clinton's videotaped introduction of his "incomparable" running mate was as close to an endorsement-in-waiting as any ambitious politician could want. While delegates chanted "Four more years, then Gore," dreams of a 16-year Democratic dynasty were palpable.
But first there is an election to be won. And then comes the hard task of succession. George Bush pulled it off. But Richard Nixon was defeated after eight years of the Eisenhower presidency. Hubert Humphrey failed to succeed Lyndon Johnson. A four-year hiatus after Jimmy Carter did not save Walter Mondale.
Vice President Gore, a disciplined man, says he will not discuss his future until the time is ripe. He knows he faces rivals from within Democratic ranks, including former Speaker Dick Gephardt and Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, both liberals who resent the party's move to the right under "New Democrat" Clinton-Gore leadership. Both lawmakers oppose the new welfare reform bill, an issue Mr. Gore carefully ignored in his convention speech.
In response to Mr. Gore's attacks on Republicans, GOP nominee Bob Dole snapped that "apparently, he's the hatchet man for the Democrats." If so, that is a running mate's traditional role, well filled by Mr. Dole when he was on President Gerald Ford's 1976 ticket.
Mr. Gore's larger worry should be the contradiction between his anti-smoking pitch and his past record of support for, and money from, the tobacco industry. The next four years will require the ultimate in aplomb and agility. Groomed from birth for the White House, he will be aiming to fill that wall in his dad's home.