It's Cuddly Al! (Or, Why Gore Went Warm 'n' Fuzzy)

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If you thought you'd gotten to know Al Gore during his nearly eight years in the White House, beware: He wants you to get to know him all over again. Warned off his attack-a-day strategy by Democrats fretting over the veep's poll numbers, Gore went to Milwaukee on Tuesday to talk environment and gave a speech that was long on Mom and Dad's farm back in Tennessee and short on mention of one George W. Bush. The sticks and stones he left to surrogates, like League of Conservation Voters president Deb Callahan, who bashed Bush as being "more James Watt than Teddy Roosevelt" while Gore stood on the stage in silence (he did look a little uncomfortable). Other surrogates were unapologetic. "If the League... wants to contrast the mess in Texas with Al Gore's pro-family, pro-environment record, that's their decision," shrugged Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.

It's been Bush who's grabbed the early initiative in the campaign so far with bold, near-weekly proposals on hot buttons like Social Security and arms control, painting Gore as a hopeless status quo guy in a season where voters are thought to be hungry for change. The proposals' lack of specifics, though, have left Gore's team of parsers without the kind of ammunition they used to riddle Bill Bradley's body during the primaries, and Democrat kingmakers are now worrying that Bush looks like a visionary and Gore looks like a hidebound nit-picker. So Gore's aides now tell the Washington Post their man now means to hang back a bit. He'll look for ways to extend Bill Clinton's best legacies into something Al can call his own — and tell more personal stories, meant to help Gore's famously elusive lovable side finally crawl out into the sun. Here's one from Tuesday: "My father taught me a lesson about, well, for example, soil erosion and how to take care of the fields." We, er, can't wait for more.