Personalities play key role in campaign

by Alice Gomstyn | 10/20/00 5:00am

With no dominant political issue in the presidential race, the personalities of the major candidates have come to play a prominent role in the 2000 presidential election.

This is the fourth in a series of Friday articles on the candidates as the country prepares to elect a new leader on Nov. 7.

The personal qualities and character traits of Republican presidential nominee Gov. George W. Bush and his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, have been subject to intense media scrutiny throughout the current presidential race.

As the sitting vice president for nearly eight years, Gore has endured countless jabs by critics for his stiff manner and his over-intellectualized mode of speech. The Bush campaign, in particular, portrays Gore as a slick Washington insider, in contrast to their ranch-dwelling, Southern-rooted candidate.

The Texas governor who, by comparision, is relatively new to the national media spotlight, has accumulated his own set of frequently highlighted personality traits. Although Bush, a former college cheerleader, is often described as affable and easy-going, left-leaning pundits as well as members of the Gore campaign constantly lambaste the Texas governor for his verbal blemishes.

Some argue that the personality issue is more critical to the Bush campaign. According to government professor Constantine Spiliotes, Bush's likeable demeanor is one of the main selling points of his campaign.

Voters are drawn to Bush, Spiliotes explained.

"There's something about him, they can't necessarily put their finger on it," he said.

Gore, on the other hand, relies more on substantive policy issues to drive his candidacy.

Nonetheless, both candidates have taken noticeable steps in recent months to correct their perceived character flaws.

Gore, in an effort to appear more approachable, has traded in his Brooks Brothers suits for more subdued earth tones. In what some see as a calculated move to present himself as a passionate man, he engaged his wife, Tipper, in an unprecedented, multi-second liplock during the Democratic National Convention.

Gore also chose Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman -- known to be an animated, charismatic individual -- as his running mate.

According to government professor Lynn Vavreck, although Lieberman has added energy to the campaign, Gore, in general, has not succeeded in shaking his wooden image.

"I think he still seems a little stilted," she said.

Bush has done some ticket balancing of his own, selecting former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his vice presidential hopeful. Some say that Cheney, with his commendable work during the Gulf War, compensates for Bush's lack of foreign policy experience.

According to The Dartmouth's political columnist Dan Pollock '01, Bush has raised people's opinions about his intellectual capacity in general through the recent presidential debates.

"In the debates, Bush came across as at least being able to hold his own against Gore, and I think that was a big win for him," Pollock said.

For Bush, being able to "hold his own" has an important implication. As the son of a former president, many attribute Bush's success in the political, as well as the business arena, to his father's extensive connections. By demonstrating competency in a debate against Gore, long-touted as a skilled debater himself, Bush escapes his father's shadow.

Although Gore's father was also a prominent politician -- Albert Gore Senior had a distinguished career in the United States Senate -- there is a different shadow from which Gore must escape: that of current President Bill Clinton.

Despite Gore's efforts to distance himself from the sitting President, the past scandals of the Clinton administration have not left Gore's image untarnished, according to Vavreck.

"Clinton hasn't campaigned for him ... but that doesn't seem to be helping. I think people still make the association [between Gore and Clinton]," she said.

The GOP has not hesitated to take advantage of this association, painting Gore as dishonest and untrustworthy. According to Spiliotes, however, these attacks failed to have their intended effect and have not translated into more support for the Republican candidate.

"The character issue with Gore has not played as well for the Bush campaign as they thought," he said.

Despite the media's, and in some cases, the campaigns', emphasis on personality and character, these issues will not necessarily prove to be the deciding factors in this race.

"I think personality by itself isn't enough on which to base a vote decision," Vavreck said.

Spiliotes agreed.

"I think there's some portion of the electorate that make their decisions on character," he said. "At the same time there are some people who are much more focused on particular issues."

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