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US midterms Friday, 30 October, 1998, 17:02 GMT
Al Gore: On the trail for 2000
Al Gore: standing by his man
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Al Gore has become the Democrats' chief campaigner, tirelessly travelling the country to spread the good word about the Democrats' record on the economy and to sing the praises of President Clinton.

But it's no secret that the vice president's performance in the mid-term elections is as much a sign of personal ambition as party loyalty as he prepares his presidential bid for 2000. Mr Gore hopes his appearances on the campaign trail will expand his own base in key states like California and Iowa.

"Al Gore is the most active of campaigner in this administration; even more than Hillary Clinton or some of Mr Clinton's cabinet," said Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"In a sense this is a dry run for him for the 2000 race. He's also enlargening his role by giving high profile backing to his party's candidates and will feel comfortable calling on them in the run up to the presidential nomination."

Campaigning has also allowed him to keep a discreet distance from Washington during the media frenzy following the release of the Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's report on the president's affair with Monica Lewinksy.

After the initial shock, polls show the public has tired of the scandal. Mr Gore is now declaring the congressional elections as a referendum on the Republican calls for impeachment of the US president.

"On November 3, the voters are going to decide to put the American people's business first and move on from those endless investigations," he told a reception for an Iowa Democratic candidate Bob Rush.

In the process he may also be gaining public support for himself as poll ratings put him far ahead of Clinton in the morality stakes.

Threat from other presidential wannabes

Mr Gore's position at No 2 guarantees exposure as well as excellent connections with state party leaders likely to nominate him, a distinct advantage over rival Democrats House Minority leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, John Kerry of Massachusetts and former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

Questions hang over campaign funding in '96
Despite this, Mr Gore cannot be complacent.

He currently is under investigation for allegedly illegally raising money for the 1996 presidential elections.

There is also the problem of charisma, or rather, the lack of it. The American columnist and political pundit Michael Kinsley once wrote that Al Gore is an old person's idea of what a young person should be.

Mr Gore also is famous for stiffness and lacklustre performances in high-pressure situations. In his 1996 debate with vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, critics said he was like a school teacher lecturing a group of remedial students.

But he has learned a great deal since his last attempt at becoming leader of the world's most powerful nation in 1988.

His last three months of relentless campaigning are giving him plenty of practice in the art of public speaking on and off screen.

While the president has been holed up in the White House trying to get Middle East leaders to sign a peace deal, Mr Gore has been touring the country relentlessly raising and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars. His aides say that by election day, he will have shown his support for 67 Democrat running for Congress or governor.

But while practice makes perfect on the campaign trail, the race for 2000 remains wide open.

Links to more US midterms stories are at the foot of the page.

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