Democratic Convention: The Women Who Made Al Gore

Pauline raised a tough, pragmatic politician, but it took a life-altering family crisis to make Al see how much he had to learn from Tipper

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By early 1976, Tipper Gore had her life all planned, practically tacked to the kitchen bulletin board. She had married her high school sweetheart, settled on a farm right down the road from Al's folks, sewn the dining-room drapes, planted the vegetable garden and had the first of what they hoped would be six children. She had just finished her master's in psychology; he was going to be a novelist, or a lawyer, maybe buy the local newspaper. The one thing he would not do, she had told her friends, was follow in the footsteps of his father, the fiery Senator from Tennessee. But if she believed him, she may have been the only person who did.

To the residents of middle Tennessee, Al Gore's destiny was encoded in his birth announcement in 1948, which his father, by then a five-term Congressman, insisted be placed on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean. Four years later, Albert Gore Sr. went on to the Senate; and in 1976, Albert Gore Jr. saw a once-in-a-generation chance to take his father's old House seat. It was, Tipper recalls, "a bombshell" when he suddenly told her he was running for it. Three days later, he stood on the Smith County Courthouse steps and announced it to the rest of the world. And five months later, when he won the primary, Tipper knew the seat was his, and that they were moving to Washington, and that nothing was going to turn out the way she had planned.

Which is why Tipper needed to talk to someone. She left three-year-old Karenna at her farmhouse with a cousin and headed a quarter-mile down Highway 70. Just over the Caney Fork River waited a kitchen with the smell of baked bread, a Farberware percolator full of fresh coffee and the one woman who could maybe understand what she was feeling. Pauline Gore, Al's mother, knew something about changing plans and making compromises to promote a husband's career. She knew her tough-minded approach to politics had got Albert further than he could have got on his rich oratory and high principles alone. She had big plans for her son too, and she didn't want Tipper fighting him on it or holding him back. Pauline laid out a proposition as she spread homemade blackberry jam on her toast. "She said I ought to think seriously about the opportunities that would be afforded me," Tipper recalled to TIME, "if I could be a partner to Al the way that she and Albert worked it out."

If the story of Al and Tipper's political union started back at Pauline's kitchen table, so decades before did the story of Al Gore himself. The subplots of this presidential election have so far told us a lot about what it means to share the name and live in the shadow of a famous father--Albert Gore, George Bush, John McCain. But it is important to know that what has got Gore this far is also the fact that he is his mother's son. "Al Gore honored his father by entering public life," wrote biographer Bill Turque, "but he honored his mother by doing what it took to win."

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