WASHINGTON -- The decision of the Bush and Gore campaigns to hit the road immediately after their parties' nominating conventions reflects an obvious hope that the magic of the Clinton-Gore bus trip of 1992, coming right out of the New York convention that anointed that ticket, can be successfully replicated.
Gov. George W. Bush is slated to revive the old whistle stop train tradition at the conclusion of the Republican convention in Philadelphia Aug. 3, chugging across the Midwest, which is expected to be the key battleground this fall, as well as in California, where he hopes to upset Vice President Al Gore, or at least force him to spend time and money.
Mr. Gore's plans call for boat trips down the Mississippi and on the Great Lakes, which touch on several key Midwestern states, after the Democratic convention in Los Angeles ending Aug. 17. The 1992 Clinton-Gore bus caravan, you may remember, drew wide acclaim as Bill and Al's Excellent Adventure -- two young and vigorous buddies introducing themselves as a team to the voters, and having a whale of a time themselves in the process.
The personal chemistry of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore was on display several times a day as they cavorted as a matched pair of stand-up comics with President George Bush and his hapless vice president, Dan Quayle, as their foils. In the process, they captured the imagination of crowds that waited by the waysides of the nation's highways as they visited out-of-the-way spots that had seldom seen any part of a presidential campaign in person.
There were, in fact, several Democratic bus trips in 1992, and the phenomenon was repeated by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore in 1996. During them, rather surprisingly for all the characterizations of Mr. Gore as wooden, he was loose and animated much of the time, often convulsing Mr. Clinton with his one-liners and intentionally exaggerated cheerleading.
While there is undoubtedly a certain amount of nostalgia attached to presidential campaign whistle stops and bus tours that appeals to voters, the key ingredient in the Clinton-Gore busmobiles was the so-obvious fact that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore hit it off so well. Men of the same generation with southern roots (deeper in Arkansas for Mr. Clinton than in Tennessee for Mr. Gore), it was apparent from the outset that they enjoyed each other and shared political and intellectual interests.
Although they had separate buses, they took to riding with each other in Mr. Clinton's bus for hours, schmoozing. It got so cozy that one night, after the long day's campaigning, the traveling press and campaign aides had to start rocking the bus -- literally -- to get them to break off their conversation outside the overnight hotel so everybody could get a few hours' sleep.
It is clear from all this that an important decision in the success of this summer's after-convention travel by the presidential nominees is whether they bring their running mates along, and whether they are truly and visibly compatible with them. In 1988, the elder Mr. Bush got as far away from Mr. Quayle as he could manage once he got free of his newly announced running mate's exuberant embraces on that New Orleans dock.
Considering that history, it will be particularly interesting to seethe sort of folks selected as the major-party vice presidential nominees this year, and whether they are brought along by their benefactors coming out of the conventions.
Mr. Gore, after the success of his road-show duets with Mr. Clinton in 1992 and 1996, very likely will want to try to recapture the magic with his own hand-picked running mate at his side. And Mr. Bush will be hard-pressed not to do the same. This factor alone suggests he won't repeat his father's mistake of selecting a ticket mate he will feel obliged to run away from.
In any event, the old tradition of presidential nominees resting after their conventions until Labor Day seems gone forever. The Clinton-Gore team demonstrated the public-relations opportunities to be had in hitting the road at once and doing it with zest, whether by bus, train or paddlewheel boat.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from The Sun's Washington Bureau.