What was your first impression of Al Gore?
Schardt served as press secretary to Gore's 1998 presidential campaign. He speaks about Gore's strengths and weaknesses as a politician and reflects on several key moments of the 1988 campaign.
Our meeting for [an] interview [he'd done in New Hampshire] was the first
time I had ever met him. And as we chatted for that hour going from New
Hampshire into the Boston airport, ... he impressed me as someone who was very,
very smart. Number two, he was very incisive in all of his questioning of me.
He didn't know me either. He may have seen my resume, but it might have just
been back at the campaign headquarters in Washington.
And then it turned into a very nice, easy dialogue for an hour. We talked a
lot about news. I had been for years with Time magazine and Newsweek
magazine and we had a lot of mutual acquaintances or friends that we talked
about. And he asked me in great detail a whole list of names off the top of
his head, about wanting to know if I knew this reporter, or that bureau chief,
or that producer, or that broadcaster, and so on. It was a very, very warm and
intelligent, and positive conversation. I enjoyed it.
What would you say are his greatest strengths? And his weaknesses?
The fact that he is smart as hell and that he is extremely focussed, and, I
would say, he always seemed to me, in every kind of a situation that I saw him
in, to be generally unflappable. His weakness would be that darn curse of
being, so often being stiff, which is such a contrast with--I'm sure you've
heard this 100 times, that, in private, he could be loose and funny and pull
jokes and pranks.
I remember one time he made a video about one of the staff members who was
leaving--this was right after the campaign was over, and the staff member had
also been on his senate staff, that was going to take a job back in Tennessee.
And Al did a really, really funny video that was played at the farewell party
for this guy, and had the whole room cracking up. He was droll, he was
tongue-in-cheek humor, and some kind of just broad humor. And I've seen him on
some of our flights where everybody was cracking jokes, and he was roaring
right along with everybody else and having a great time.
So I think it is definitely an obstacle to his connecting with mass audiences
that he doesn't show that side of himself more often, than you see it if you're
with him a lot, because it's there, but it's not there enough.
How did he take advice on the campaign?
My first full day on the job, Al was being interviewed by David Frost, who
was doing that series of puff pieces on the candidates, and they were
interviewing at in their home, in the living room. And I still remember this
because Al was hugely conscientious about making votes on--taking part in any
votes on the Senate floor. The interview was going on, and he had his beeper
on, and right in the middle of the interview, the beeper went off, and there
was an important vote going on, and Al just said, "We're going to have to stop
and I got to go to the Senate and vote."
And so we raced into his car and drove--he just drove like a madman, I was
scared to death, and we went screeching right up to steps of the Capitol, and
he ran up and cast his vote, and then came running right down again and got in
the car and we drove off again; and on the way back, he asked me how I thought
the interview was going, and I said I thought it was going okay but--I made a
bunch of suggestions. And I kept thinking, "This is strange that this guy,
he's a major political figure already, and he's been in this all his life, but
he was doing a lot of things in the interview that are kind weaknesses in terms
of a television interview, like kind of looking up, like that, to think about
an answer, sometimes."
So I made some suggestions to him that I thought would help smooth things out
for the second half, and you could kind of see his hands getting tighter and
tighter on the steering wheel, and his jaw getting a little tighter. I didn't
know whether I was getting myself fired or whether he just didn't like to take
advice or what. But we got back to the house, and he did all those things, and
the second part of the interview really went over much better than the first
half. I figured, "Well, for whatever reason that he was doing those things
before, whether he wanted to hear about changing them or not was beside the
point. He took the criticism--it was constructive criticism, and he took it
well, and the second hour, hour and a half went quite well.
He can be a micro-manager. And he is so smart, that he keeps an enormous
amount of detail in his head, as well as policy and strategy ideas. When he
was on the road, he was calling back to the campaign headquarters many, many
times every day to check in on how everything was going, and talk with Fred
Martin his campaign director. If I wasn't traveling with him, if I was back in
Washington for a period working out of the headquarters, I would get a call two
or three times a day wanting to know what was in the news, and what was going
on, and what was being asked of us by reporters who were back in the capital
and so on. So he played a very, very involved role at all levels at all
Was that helpful or hurtful do you think?
I think it kept people alert. I think he asked good questions. I'd say if
there were any one thing that I would say to characterize one of his most
salient characteristics, it would just be that he is an extremely brilliant
guy, and he knows not only, he's not only on top of a lot of subjects but also
was--As I say, he was criticized by many people also for being too much of a
micro manager. And I can't pretend to know all the conversations that went on
between him and other senior staff members, but I think most of the time people
felt that it kept things humming, and kept people on their toes. It was an
enthusiastic staff anyway.
You met with a number of obstacles, so to speak, along the campaign
trail. One of those was Mayor Koch's endoresement speech. Can you talk about
...Mayor Koch had finally made his decision and in fact had endorsed Gore
as his choice for the nomination, and of course there was great jubilation,
because there had been terrific competition, especially with Dukakis, but a
couple of the other ones also who were seeking that endorsement. Everybody
regarded it as a real plumb and a very important step.
And it began that way: We went into New York, scrapped the afternoon plan
because Mayor Koch had set up a big press conference in City Hall, and the
place was a mob scene. And Al gave a very good speech, and Koch gave a very
good speech. And then, boom, the Jesse Jackson remark about himeytown comes
out, and Koch is infuriated, and he had a right to be upset about it, it was
not a very politic or a smart thing of Jackson to do, I don't know why he did
But that began taking over the news. And, in the meantime, we were still going
up in the polls, I think we got up over 20% after several days in New York,
but, slowly but surely, this attack by Koch against Jackson began dominating
the news, and also it began kind of subsuming Al's campaign and his message.
And we got the point where we were trying everything we could, at various
campaign stops around the metropolitan area, to avoid having Mayor Koch with
us, because the politic thing was that, as the Mayor, he would be the first
speaker, and he always went into this tirade about Jesse Jackson and himeytown.
It reminded me of the captain on a sinking ship; he would almost be having to
put his hand over his heart and start out every street corner rally by saying,
"The Mayor is speaking for himself, and I'd like to talk about my campaign now.
I mean, Al was doing everything possible to deflect attention from it, but it
just got worse and worse, and it hit us very badly, there was no question about
The irony was that, from all the signs that any of us could see, Gore and
Jackson were actually very close friends, it was a friendly rivalry. They
spent a lot of private time together--like, after an event where all the
candidates would speak, they would often wind up in one of the green rooms or
meeting rooms afterwards and chat privately for 3o or 4o minutes.
The campaign also faced another landmine over whether or not Gore had
In the Atlanta airport, a TV crew came running up to Al and just threw a
camera in front of him and said, "Have you ever smoked pot?" We had to catch a
plane, we had to get the connecting flight to go onto Florida, and there wasn't
time to do anything. We said we would answer the question in the morning, that
we were getting on this flight and heading on.
And so I went to the campaign headquarters in Washington, and Al continued on
to Florida...It was incredible, there was a huge amount of panic. People were
thinking, "My God, this is going to be the end of the campaign, the sky is
falling, and all this stuff."
It didn't seem that way to me, because Al was not perturbed by the question; it
was just that there really wasn't time to answer it. So he finished the event
in Florida and then got onto this small plane that took forever to get him to
Iowa, and I had gotten an early flight there, and I was waiting for him, with a
number of the other staff...I had set up a press conference for like 4:30 that
afternoon, well before the dinner was going to start. And I said, "We ought to
just deal with it right now," and he said he totally agreed, that he thought
that would be the thing to do. It was quite a walk from the hotel to where the
event was, and our only conversation was just tell it like it is. So we got to
the room, and it was jammed. There must have been 50 or 60 reporters, and they
were really loaded for bear, and Al just stepped up and started talking. He
said, "I know there's been a question being asked of the candidates about
whether they ever tried marijuana," and he said, yes, he had, a couple of
times, I think in college, and a couple of times in Vietnam. And they asked a
few more questions about it, and after about six or seven minutes at the most,
you could see that it was over, because the reporters started asking questions
about other subjects, and that seemed to be the end of it.
Why do you think that he decides to run in '88?
I don't know why he chose to do it then, except that I think that he very
strongly felt, and a lot of his admirers and supporters in Tennessee and around
the country, felt that he was still well qualified. He had been in public
service for most of his life, he had been a journalist for a brief period
before that. But he had been in the House for a number of years, and in the
Senate, and obviously you know the background of how he grew up with a father
who was a senator.
So he knew the ways of government about as intimately as anybody could. I
think he had certain things that he wanted to get across.
How much of it was running for himself, and how much of it was running
for his dad?
I think he was running for himself, although certainly his dad were, and
his mother, were both enormous influences on him, as I'm sure is already well
known. But his dad played a very, very active part. He had an office in the
campaign headquarters over in Roslyn. He was in there every day, or else he
was on the road every day. I believe that he eventually -- this is Gore senior
now, Senator Gore senior -- I believe that eventually spoke in all 49 of the
continental states. I'm not sure that he got to Alaska or to Hawaii, but I
think he did make a point of making an appearance in all the other 48 states.
He was usually present at most of the major strategy meeting meetings where
there would be a large group.
Describe the relationship between father and son
It was, really I feel like at that point it was the relationship between
two grown men who were very, very close. His father obviously wanted him very
much to become the president some day, wanted Alan to become the president.
When we were on trips, occasionally Senator Gore Sr. was with us, and they
would talk about everything from family to campaign strategy at those times.
But it was clearly a very close relationship.
I remember, I think one of the things that stood out most in my memory was that
after Super Tuesday when the campaign won, I believe, seven states. We were
having a big rally after the results were all in down in Nashville at, I
believe it's the Grand Old Opry Hotel was the place. There was a great big
sort of a ballroom there with a stage.
And Al was up on the stage, and his family, and a lot of his closer supporters,
and Al gave a thank you speech and "We're going to go onto victory" and so on.
There was obviously tremendous excitement and enthusiasm that night.
I went up to the podium to start helping Senator senior to step down because
there wasn't a stairway. So...he was just going to reach down, take my hands,
and step down. And all of a sudden I reached up and then just then he threw
his hands up in the air and then he looked down and he said "Arlie, that boy is
going to be president."
Do you have any other memories of the '88 campaign that stand out in
I remember one time in Atlanta, it was during a Jefferson Jackson weekend,
and all of the candidates were there. There were people from all over the
southeast attending a huge day of speeches, and workshops, and a big dinner
that night and everything. Then the next morning there was a big parade up
Peach Tree Street. In all, at that point, I think seven democratic candidates
were to be lined up in this parade up the Avenue, along with a lot of prominent
Civil Rights leaders, and so on.
And as they were lining up I went up behind Al and just literally reached up
and pulled at his jacket until I was pulling it up over his face. He looked
around because he didn't know who the hell was doing that, and he looked
annoyed, which anybody would. I said "Al, I'm not going to let you wear that
jacket in this parade." It was a beautiful, sunny day.
So finally he agreed and we stripped it off, so there was this phalanx of
people marching up the street. The next day on the front page of the New
York Times was a big photo of this scene of all of the candidates, and Al
just looked like Superman. He just stood out so much because he's got broad
shoulders--And everybody else was kind of faded into the dark business suits
that they were all wearing, and then here was this one guy with just a shirt
and a tie down there. And so we try to use that as an example of why he should
do that more often, but it never really worked.
There were other times where he did finally toss the jacket aside and pull down
his tie, and he always gave much better speeches that way too. He can do it
very easily, and it was always a mystery as to why he didn't, what it was that
held him back from doing it more often.
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