Gore Campaigns on Riverboat Cruise

Saturday, August 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — His floating armada drifting steadily south, Vice President Al Gore is turning his attention to taxes and the environment, but taking time for Mark Twain in a colorful riverboat ride designed to seize the spotlight.

The Gore brigade mixed dockside rallies, somber policy forums and more than a little soaking up the sun in a lazy float down the Mississippi River on Friday.

The Democratic presidential nominee was upbeat, plunging into waiting crowds wherever they appeared.

``Oh yeah, he's excited,'' said eldest daughter Karenna Gore Schiff. ``He's bouncing around. I don't know if it's because he hasn't had any sleep.''

Gore defended the often glacial pace of his campaign, sputtering for hours between events and seeing only scattered folks along the river banks.

``We're going to target a lot of important communities in key states that often decide presidential elections,'' he said. ``The states in this part of the Midwest are always crucial to the outcome of the election.''

Gore was hoping to come roaring out of his nominating convention with a vengeance, grabbing campaign attention with his 400-mile, photo-friendly cruise down the river.

He opened the cruise focusing on health care, but was turning to taxes and the environment, issues the Gore camp believes will resonate in the industrial Midwest, a key electoral battleground.

"We've got two and a half months to have a good discussion,'' said Gore.

The broad and muddy Mississippi was the ideal backdrop to talk about the environment, where Gore argues that Republican rival George W. Bush's record is lacking.

His crowds were big and enthusiastic. About 5,000 cheering backers opened his trip in La Cross, Wis., and 3,000 showed up in Prairie du Chien, Wis., according to police estimates.

It's no accident that Gore's boat trip takes him past Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, all states where Clinton ran well in his two presidential campaigns.

There was a clear mix of recreation and politicking as his big riverboat drifted downstream at 8 mph, flanked by a group of smaller boats dashing about carrying photographers and security officials. Adding to the party atmosphere, the occasional boat roared by with backers waving signs and shouting encouragement.

When the boat moved closed to shore, passing motorists stopped to sit and wave. When it moved through locks, crowds gathered and Gore hopped off to shake hands, with some results.

``I'm a registered Republican and I'm going to vote for him,'' said Carl Hanneman.

``We have never seen a candidate before,'' said Carrie Begalke, who shook hands with Gore. ``I'm on the fence.''

Gore and running mate Joseph Lieberman hung out with their wives in the top level, occasionally basking in the sun and posing for pictures. Lieberman broke off at mid-day to observe the Sabbath beginning at sunset Friday.

Along with the hoopla, the campaign was taking pains to focus on issues. At campaign rallies along the river, Gore hammered at a long list of issues he highlighted in his acceptance speech Thursday night, and there was plenty of time for policy as well.

In the opening leg, the campaign brought along about 20 local Wisconsin residents for a round-table discussion of health care issues, while aides issued a detailed 11-page policy statement listing what they see as differences between Gore and Bush on the issue.

``On their boat trip down the Mississippi River, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman will highlight some real concrete differences on the important issues facing working families,'' said the campaign's position paper. ``These differences have a real impact for working families.''

At rallies from Dubuque south, Gore was pushing his plan to offer tax breaks for day care, education expenses and other expenses which impact middle-class voters most directly.

Gore was carefully staging all of his events for the ever-present television cameras, featuring barber shop quartets, patriotic bunting and actors dressed as Mark Twain doing impersonations.

Tom Gilding held a mock news conference with Gore to spout famous Twain sayings aboard the riverboat, named ``Mark Twain.''