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Gore focus on details is an asset


CLEVELAND -- In his acceptance speech last month, Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore told his party's national convention he knew many people thought he was too serious, but that running for president was serious business.

Continuing to make a virtue out of his seriousness, just as he did in that acceptance speech, the vice president here the other day unveiled a 191-page economic plan for a Gore presidency that was pointedly heavy on specifics.

In the heart of the old Rust Belt, Mr. Gore accompanied the release of his plan, called "Prosperity for America's Families," with a speech in which he reminded his listeners again and again that he was throwing a full blueprint at them to examine and make up their own minds.

Because their future is at stake in the election, he said, "you deserve to know, in real and specific terms, what a candidate proposes to do ... And so I'm here today, in America's heartland, to talk specifically, concretely, about an issue that lies at the heart of America's progress in the years ahead -- a growing economy that enriches all our families."

He went on: "I'm doing this because I don't want you to have to read the tea leaves, or read between the lines of a press release or position paper, to know what a Gore-Lieberman administration would mean for families. Instead, you can just read my plan ..."

Mr. Gore listed "the specific steps" he plans to take to save Social Security and Medicare, provide prescription drug benefits, eradicate the national debt by 2012, increase family savings, cut the poverty rate to under 10 percent, halve the wage gap between the genders, boost home ownership and college enrollment, create 10 million high-tech jobs, achieve targeted tax cuts for middle-class families and even start a federal "rainy day" account out of surpluses.

All this came a day after Mr. Gore's opponent, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, had after much delay spelled out his plan to provide prescription drug benefits for working families. Mr. Bush was equally specific in this one area, providing what voters need to compare the two nominees on this issue that is among their top concerns throughout the country.

But on past performance, Mr. Bush is no policy wonk when compared with Mr. Gore, who revels in detail and seldom has to rely on aides to explain the nuances of his proposals. In the weeks ahead, and especially in whatever candidate debates finally take place, the more specific and detailed the campaign discourse becomes, the more the odds will favor Mr. Gore.

So it is to his advantage to hammer home his grasp of specifics and intricacies, provided he can do so without slipping into the drawn-out classroom lecturing posture that until the convention often bored more than engaged his audiences.

As in his acceptance speech, Mr. Gore now speaks more rapidly and less woodenly, and in word and style repeatedly emphasizes the seriousness of the choice the voters face. It's a none-too-subtle suggestion that the other guy is too light and too flip to sit in the Oval Office.

Drawing a contrast with Mr. Bush on their relative grasps of specifics and detail, and the ability to articulate the heavy stuff, is a regular aspect of Mr. Gore on the stump now. In Columbus, Ohio, on the day before he unloaded his meaty economic plan, the vice president visited a new brainpower firm developing tools for the New Economy and traded policy jargon with the top high-tech wonks as if he were one of them.

Mr. Gore's familiarity with the cutting edge in technology is obvious, as is his relish in spending an hour or more with a relatively small group of high-tech employees (as well as local and network television cameras) talking about education as the key to their, and the country's, continued economic success.

This familiarity is not, to be sure, anything new for Mr. Gore, and it has not always endeared him to voters who have seen him as an automaton or a know-it-all. But as the election draws closer and voters themselves become more serious about the presidential choices facing them, what earlier may have been a detriment to him may well prove to be a major asset.

Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover write from The Sun's Washington Bureau. Mr. Germond's latest book is "Fat Man in a Middle Seat -- 40 Years of Covering Politics" (Random House, 1999). Mr. Witcover's latest book is "No Way to Pick a President" (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1999).

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