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Local newsies arrived first, obediently following instructions to show up two hours prior to the rally. There are print, radio and TV representatives, and most socialize only with members of their own medium. The dorky men of radio are the exception, trying fruitlessly to strike up conversations with the babes of TV news.
The newsbabes are uniform in their use of hair highlights, sleek pantsuits and chewing gum; shiny stars among frumpy colleagues. Towering above them all is Fox 10's Julie Staley-Rodriguez, positively monolithic in a blazing red pantsuit, and chewing her gum more sternly than the rest. TV3's Stephanie Guadianwins the award for Most Effort on the Clock, dangerously straining the white rope to interview as many Gore supporters as possible.
About 15 minutes before showtime, event volunteers yell for local press to clear the prime spots on the news camera riser to make room for their superior colleagues. Enter the national press, ugly and pissy, bustling in with their bulky, somehow more national-looking equipment. Their rumpled presence signals the imminent approach of the candidate.
The vice president enters to the disco beats of The O'Jays' "Love Train," and the cheers of a half-full auditorium. The event volunteers distracted, the Flash slips from the press area and into the crowd to get a closer look -- freedom at last!
"Are there any teachers here?" Gore yells into the hissing PA, and receives a handful of affirmations. "You are heroes!"
Gore launches into a pro-union stump speech, pledging to raise the minimum wage and more pay for educators. This is his second Phoenix appearance of the day, the first being a $200-per-plate fund raiser at the Inter-Tribal Council Center. The previous event couldn't have been arduous, yet Gore looks strained and sweaty.
This is the improved, more fiery Al Gore. But not passionate, exactly. He talks as if a speechwriter added mandatory exclamation points to the end of his sentences that require him to yell at times. And yell he does, brandishing a fist and hurriedly plowing over the crowd's applause.
"I happen to agree with your senior senator, John McCain, on campaign finance reform," Gore shouts. "But I disagree with him on just about everything else!"
As Gore continues, he keeps moving. Not with purpose, just energy. He sways from side to side like a ship's mast, gulping and gasping out his words, with weird pauses between syllables. He looks like a man having a heart attack.
Gore advises union members to just say "I don't go for that" to friends who make racist comments. Gore also "guarn-damn-tee"s a pledge and ends sentences with modifiers like "or somethin'," while letting his Southern accent rise to the surface.
The effect is quite folksy and endearing. Until you realize that this man has been the vice president for eight years and doesn't really talk that way.
Winding up, he shouts: "I need your vote! I want your support! I want to be your next president!"
The crowd cheers, rushes forward to shake his hand, and then it's over. It was a few promises, a tear-jerk union anecdote, a quick bashing of the competition, a line in Spanish, a request for support at the polls and a few patriotic thoughts about the future. What's his time? Did he beat the clock?
But the union crowd is excited. They heard everything they wanted to hear.
"I couldn't help but to think," says enamored listener Carolyn Modeen, "that what he said was from all of our hearts."
And with this candidate, you wouldn't expect anything less. Or more.
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