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Gore Targets McCain Supporters

By Ceci Connolly
THE WASHINGTON POST -- NEW YORK

At this stage of the Democratic presidential contest, Vice President Al Gore has his lines down pat. Revolutionary improvement in our schools. Keep the prosperity going. Expand the circle of dignity.

So it caught listeners off guard the other night when Gore rolled out a bit of fresh material that seemed to have its rhetorical roots in Republican John McCain’s “Straight Talk Express.”

In a celebratory call to Washington state supporters Tuesday night, Gore began inching away from his constituency-based politics of the primaries and tiptoed closer to a general election pitch.

“Let’s reach out to all Democrats and independents and independent-thinking Republicans and invite them to come along with us and join this crusade,” he said, parroting one of the Arizona senator’s signature phrases.

The following night, in a nationally-televised debate, Gore went directly at McCain’s supporters, praising the renegade Republican for taking on Christian conservative leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

“I thought that Senator McCain’s speech made a very powerful point, and I agree with him on a lot of the points that he made,” the vice president said. “I agree with him in his advocacy of campaign finance reform. I agree with him in taking on ’Big Tobacco” and the special interests.”

A week ago, Democrats worried about a Gore-McCain match-up, saying the Arizona senator’s promotion of campaign finance reform and tougher anti-smoking legislation would neutralize two issues at the center of the Democratic agenda. And they feared that with each primary win, McCain would raise more money.

But with his recent strategic miscues and primary losses in Virginia, North Dakota and Washington, the Gore camp is less worried. “Over the next two weeks, McCain may do well on the popular vote but George Bush will have a substantial lead in delegates,” said one Gore official.

Gore aides say it is still too early to draft a blueprint for the fall, but as the vice president has indicated in recent days, as the likely Democratic nominee, he is eager to catch the wave that delivered McCain three early victories.