The home stretch

Presidential hopefuls Al Gore and George W. Bush are both prepared to launch volleys of advertisements in the coming months. But Gore will have to be careful. He has wisely retreated from attacking the conservative platform outright and tried to focus the debate on politics and issues like health care and education. Although the vice president beat his Democratic opponent Bill Bradley partly through negative campaigning, the same strategy will not necessarily work against the charismatic and popular Bush.
Republican officials expressed concern that Gore would attack his conservative rival, but they might just be preparing to use the Democrat’s aggressive stance against him. Gore will only invite retaliation, not rally support, by airing negative advertising. The Republicans would hope to paint the vice president as mean-spirited and contrast him even further with the outwardly laid-back Bush. Even in politics, there is something to be said for good sportsmanship, and Bush, the joke-cracking conventioneer, knows it.
Gore will have to struggle if he wants to scare voters away from Bush. Polls indicate that, at least in this election, Republican supporters are not as easily swayed from their chosen platform as their Democrat counterparts. Fortunately for the Democrats, the public does not necessarily consider debates over controversial issues to be shrewd tactics. Gore must harness more dissatisfaction for his opponent’s proposals if he wants to win the election.
Gore can weather a political debate better than an assault on his personality. The Democrat could be cornered into a popularity contest by relying on harsh advertising, although negative ads often outperform positive ones. At the Democratic National Convention, Gore tried to position a Republican president’s likely tax cuts against more federal programs, created only, he suggests, by extending the Democrats’ control of the White House. The vice president would be wise to use this same strategy during the upcoming advertising blitz. He can expound on the crucial differences between the major parties’ agendas without directly attacking Bush.
Democrats must concentrate on persuading the public that America has flourished under Clinton’s administration and will continue to do so under Gore. The president himself helped establish the idea in a convincing speech at his party’s convention. But Gore already has created a stigma to some people for his eagerness to criticize. If Gore reverts back to attacking his opponent, he may jeopardize any advantage he has gleaned from Clinton.