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Gore's team says it will do all this surgically, with a lot of parts but no sum. His aides think he can take on the pharmaceutical companies over profits and oil companies over price gouging without seeming anti-business. And they point out that the crusade against HMOs appeals to upscale voters as well. "They get stuck on hold when they're trying to get reimbursed too," says a Gore ally.
But nuance has never been Gore's strongest suit, and some Democrats--and some Republicans--say Gore is making a huge miscalculation. "You need to run a dual campaign," says Bill Bradley, "and that's not easy to do." The centrists are worried that the more Gore bangs the populist gong, the harder it will be to woo the upmarket independents who are too busy checking their new stock portfolios every day to see themselves struggling the way many of their parents did. It's almost as if Gore is basing his entire campaign for the next few weeks on the one group that is not fully benefiting from the Clinton economy. "It's the kind of speech you would make during a recession," says a former White House official. And some centrists see that as a risky scheme. "Only your core constituency will respond to the victim message," says Democratic Leadership Council president Al From. "The problem with playing the grievance card is that you undermine your message--if all you can talk about is what's wrong, you can't play your strongest card, which is everything you've done for the past eight years to make things right. "
The people close to him say Gore knows the dangers of his populist approach, but they say he has to stand for something, and Gore the scrapper is the role that worked for the Veep against Bradley last winter. In some ways, it's a role he has been comfortable with, as the son of a waitress and a Senator known for his fiery defense of Tennessee farmers. Besides, Gore tried sensible centrism a year ago, with lots of detailed, 10-point plans on teacher testing and crime prevention and tax cuts, and came off sounding like a pale Clinton. He needs to get his numbers moving, fast. "We're going where we think we can move people immediately," says a top adviser. "We need to build momentum and interest by getting the easiest picks first, draw in the downscale voters, then get the upscale voters to take a second look, talk about investment in education, talk about the role of government, expand the conversation. We're not conceding the upscale voters to Bush: we're just going for them later."
Down in Austin, Texas, Bush aides say Gore's new approach makes a certain sense for someone in his predicament, but can't win him the election. The Governor's strategists concede that working families are swing, but they also believe, as one said, that "they are sick of what's going on in Washington." Another Bush adviser allowed that Gore can get some of the waitress moms, but Bush has a solid lock on their husbands. Bush's huge lead among working-class men, he argues, is the chief reason the Governor is ahead in states where Gore should be ahead by now: Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and West Virginia--all states Clinton won twice. "Part of Gore's populism would appeal to this group," says the Bush aide. "They like fighters. They wear baseball caps, drive pickups." But, one added, "they don't wear earth tones."