LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES -- Stepping out before the nation as his "own man," Democratic nominee Al Gore promised last night to fight to build a "better, fairer, more prosperous America."
The vice president, in an appearance widely regarded as critical to his lagging election chances, gave a commanding performance as he asked voters to let him lead the country "on a new journey to the best America."
On a night designed to lift him out of Bill Clinton's immense shadow, Gore received a thunderous ovation from a party increasingly restive over polls that show him trailing Republican nominee George W. Bush.
"The presidency is more than a popularity contest," he declared to a roar from the convention crowd, near the end of a speech that, he acknowledged, was heavy with "substance and policy."
Drawing attention to his reputation as an uninspiring speaker -- an image that last night's speech might have gone a long way to dispel -- Gore said: "I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down."
His 50-minute speech ended in a slow rain of red, white and blue balloons, glittering, star-shaped confetti and a pulsating rock rhythm.
As delegates waved thousands of American flags and blue-and-white "Gore" pennants on the jammed convention floor, Gore accepted his party's nomination "in the name of all the working families who are the strength and soul of America."
"Go, Al, Go," chanted 20,000 Democrats, who broke into a loud cheer when Gore, in the biggest hour of his political life, said that he was standing before them "as my own man."
Only once did the vice president mention Clinton, whose personal unpopularity is one of the factors blamed for Gore's lagging poll ratings.
The president led America "out of the valley of recession and into the longest period of prosperity in American history," Gore said, without referring to Clinton's personal problems.
In a development that outraged Gore's campaign, it was reported yesterday that independent counsel Robert Ray had empaneled a new federal grand jury to investigate Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel who also served as Gore's chief of staff, said the timing of the news "stinks," noting that the grand jury began work July 11 but word did not leak out until hours before Gore's big moment.
Unlike Bush, who used his acceptance speech earlier this month to launch a stinging attack on Gore and Clinton, the vice president never mentioned his opponent's name and only drew a few direct comparisons to his opponent.
However, Gore lumped his GOP rival, by implication, with "the powerful," while championing himself as a fighter for working families.
Gore began by reminding the nation of the economic achievements of the Clinton administration. He highlighted the economic progress made during Clinton's presidency, in which federal budget surpluses replaced deficits.
Gore made a thinly veiled attack on the deficit-ridden Republican administration of President George Bush, his opponent's father.
Back then, "the American people were working just as hard, but your hard work was undone by a government that didn't work, didn't put people first, and wasn't on your side," he said.
This election, however, "is not an award for past performance. I'm not asking you to vote for me on the basis of the economy we have," said Gore.
Growling into the microphone, he declared, "For all of our good times, I am not satisfied."
As promised, Gore produced a long list of pledges, virtually all of them unveiled earlier in his campaign.
He couched them in the language of old-fashioned populist politics, referring to himself repeatedly as a fighter against "powerful interests" and "powerful forces" bent on keeping ordinary Americans from having "a better life."
"I say to you tonight, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will fight for you," Gore pointing his finger for emphasis, as the crowd cheered. As if to underscore the centrality of that theme, the campaign beamed from the giant video screens in the hall a video clip of Gore delivering that line during the celebration that followed his address.
Returning to a refrain from the earliest days of his political career in the 1970s, Gore said his "focus is on working families."
If elected, he said, he would continue to hold the same sort of open meetings with his constituents he held as a congressman and that presidents back to Jimmy Carter have conducted.
And in a signal that he won't cede moral values to the Bush campaign, he said that America "must challenge a culture with too much meanness and not enough meaning."
Gore, whose wife, Tipper, crusaded against profanity in popular music in the 1980s, said he would support efforts by parents to protect their children from entertainment "that you think glorifies violence and indecency."
The vice president, who hopes to force Bush to flesh out potentially divisive details of his plan to partially privatize Social Security, tried to cast himself as the more substantive of the two major candidates.
He outlined his own tax plans, a milder version of Bush's initiatives. Gore called for targeted tax relief for the middle class, instead of Bush's across-the-board rate cut; reform of the estate tax -- which hits only the wealthiest 2 percent of estates -- instead of Bush's wholesale repeal; and an end to the "marriage penalty" for working couples in a "fair way" that would benefit mainly middle-class taxpayers.
"Let me say it plainly: I will not go along with a huge tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of everyone else and wreck our good economy in the process," Gore said, to applause.
In a sardonic aside, Gore said that, under Bush's tax cut, for every $10 that goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, the average family would get enough money to buy "one extra Diet Coke a week."
"It's not nothing -- about 62 cents in change," he assured the delegates, with a laugh. "But let me tell you, that's not the kind of change I'm working for."
Gore, who was said to have written much of the speech, ended with a rhetorical flourish that drew on one of the recurring themes of the Democrats' first convention in Los Angeles since 1960, when John F. Kennedy was nominated here.
"From this city that marked both the end of America's journey westward and the beginning of the New Frontier, let us set out on a new journey to the best America. A new journey on which we advance not by the turning of wheels but by the turning of our minds, the reach of our vision, the daring grace of the human spirit," he said.
In an admission that many Americans do not really know the man who has been their vice president for almost eight years, much of the evening was given over to recounting Gore's life story for the public.
Gore provided an autobiographical glimpse into his younger years, including his service as an Army reporter in Vietnam.
"When I was there, I didn't do the most or run the gravest danger," he acknowledged. "But I was proud to wear my country's uniform."
Earlier, a half-dozen relatives and close friends delivered testimonials about the 52-year-old candidate. But the TV networks ignored the presentation, as did many of the delegates.
His daughter Kristin, 23, introduced her mother, Tipper, who danced onto the stage to the percussive beat of a band that included former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. The delegates, waving printed signs that read "Tipper Rocks," clearly loved it as she exhibited the looser side of the family to a national audience.
Mrs. Gore presented her husband's life story through a montage of old photographs and film footage that, she said, portrayed him "in a way that you may not have seen him before."
One photo showed Gore made up with green face paint as Frankenstein's monster for one of the Halloween parties the Gores hold annually for the Washington press corps.
Among the major broadcast networks, only NBC carried the campaign-produced biographical video, while CBS and ABC opted to show their own clips about his life.
The Gore production was modeled after the classic "Man from Hope" film about Clinton that was shown at the 1992 convention as a way of filling in details of the candidate's biography for voters.
"To me, he's still the man I fell in love with in high school, 30 years ago," Mrs. Gore said.
As she introduced him, Gore stepped onto the convention floor and began working his way through the crowd, shaking hands with both arms, as a wall of cheers rose through the Staples Center.
Earlier, Gore's brother-in-law Frank Hunger, journalist David Halberstam and Steve Armistead, a friend from the summers that Gore spent on his family farm in Tennessee, provided reminiscences of the Gore family.
Others talked about Gore's decision to volunteer for Army service in Vietnam at the same time that his father, Albert Gore Sr., was waging an unsuccessful bid for re-election to the Senate from Tennessee.
Halberstam pointed out that Gore is "the first Vietnam veteran to be nominated for national office," a fact his campaign has done little to highlight.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, who was elected to the House with Gore in 1976, said she knew "right away" that he was a reformer.
"New ideas, but old-fashioned values," Mikulski said. "I want to tell you, he was a fighter."
Behind in the polls, Gore wasted little time in hitting the campaign trail. After only 36 hours in the convention city, he flew overnight to Wisconsin with his ticket-mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, and their wives.
Today, they will start a four-day riverboat cruise down the Mississippi. The trip will touch on states such as Illinois, Iowa and Missouri that are among the most important battlegrounds of the fall election.
Bush, who leads in most key Midwest states and by as many as 10 points in national polls, is taking his campaign today to Gore's home state of Tennessee.
Gore has 81 days to close the gap with Bush before the Nov. 7 election. Gore aides acknowledge that, with the electorate paying little attention to daily campaign developments, this fall's debates represent the best opportunity to overtake Bush.
Yesterday, the Bush campaign announced that the Texan and his running mate, Dick Cheney, would agree to five debates this fall -- three presidential and two vice presidential.