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Gore asks voters to look past his caricature

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Praying Saturday with those who know him best, Al Gore asked voters to look past his caricature _ earthtone wardrobe, exasperated sighs and all. ``God sees on the inside and not on the outside,'' he said.

The vice president opened the final weekend of his presidential campaign by clasping hands with his home state clergy and singing ``We Shall Overcome.''

Black ministers and their Sunday pulpits are central to the Democratic nominee's get-out-the-vote strategy. And Tennessee, where Texas GOP Gov. George W. Bush has an edge in polls, is critical to Gore's electoral victory scenario.

``I believe that on Tuesday morning, very early before the sun rises, in congregations all across Memphis you're going to be saying, 'Wake up! It's time to take your souls to the polls,''' Gore said at a prayer breakfast.

Dropping down in West Virginia, Gore told a Huntington airport rally that his agenda _ targeted tax cuts for working families, universal child health insurance, public school improvements _ reflects a philosophical difference with Bush. ``There's a preference on the other side for a dog-eat-dog, every-person-to-himself mentality that works fine for the very wealthy but does not work very well always for those who are struggling to get by,'' Gore said.

Martin Luther King III traveled from Atlanta to Memphis to amplify Gore's appeal.

``We need to get on the phone,'' King preached. ``If ten encourage ten, and ten encourage ten ... a great victory is going to occur.''

Among many black voters, Gore has not proven as popular as President Clinton and Democrats worry that the pizzazz deficit could depress voter turnout.

``Bill Clinton's a hero to African Americans,'' said southside Chicago's Rev. B. Herbert Martin. ``I believe Mr. Gore can carry that agenda; he just doesn't have the exciting personality.''

The phenomenon is not exclusive to the black community. Polls show that more Americans think Bush is likable, about seven in 10 in a recent Newsweek poll, compared to those who think Gore is likable, about six in 10. That gap has been evident much of the year, though it vanished for about a month after the Democratic convention.

And so Gore and his handlers, over the course of his two-year campaign, tried several fixes. He switched from dark business suits and power ties, to earthtone sportshirts and khakis. He left the vice presidential lecterns in Washington. He threw open the box of privacy around his family and invited Americans to see him as husband, father and grandfather.

On Saturday, he and wife Tipper danced with hands in the air to a gospel choir's rollicking ``Oh, Happy Day.''

Gore, who represented Tennessee for 16 years in the U.S. House and Senate, reported with a chuckle that his elderly mother, at home on a farm in Carthage, has been telephoning preachers across the state on his behalf.

``You know me,'' Gore told several hundred religious leaders in a banquet room of the Peabody Hotel. Mimicking the loud sighs that earned him criticism after his first debate with Bush, Gore continued:

``You know my heart. You know that God sees on the inside and not on the outside. And, you know that it doesn't matter whether my coat is on or off, what color suit I wear, what kind of tie I put on. You don't care, actually, of the facial expressions I have or whether I sigh. You might even forgive me if I sometimes get a little (sigh) impatient with the pace of justice.''

Before flying on to West Virginia, a pitstop home for his son's high school football game and homestretch blur of campaigning, Gore told his Tennessee friends, ``You are the wind underneath my wings.''

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