Under scrutiny for old anti-abortion views, Al Gore hustled off the presidential campaign trail Wednesday in hopes of casting a tie-breaking Senate vote demonstrating he's squarely in support of abortion rights. But Republicans denied him that drama.
The Senate passed a bill on a minor abortion-related matter 80-17, leaving the vice president with no vote to cast and nothing much to do.
"We're never going to let him break a tie vote again," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said, mindful of Gore's frequent campaign boasting about the vote he cast last year to pass a gun control bill.
The spectacle played out the morning after Gore's uncomfortably close Democratic primary win over Bill Bradley in New Hampshire. Bradley narrowed Gore's advantage with women by disputing his contention that he had always been for abortion rights and calling attention to dozens of anti-abortion votes or statements Gore made as a Tennessee congressman until the mid-1980s.
Gore's hectic trip to Washington left Bradley smiling. "How did the vote turn out?" asked Bradley, also campaigning in New York.
As president of the Senate, Gore could have voted to break a tie and had rushed to Washington from New York thinking the Senate might be deadlocked.
The vice president left New York in such a hurry that he even beat Air Force Two to Washington.
Sleepless from a post-midnight flight out of New Hampshire and a pre-dawn wake-up call for TV talk shows, Gore was glad-handing New York commuters in Grand Central Station when Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota reached him by cell phone to tell him the vote looked close and could come in a little more than two hours.
En route to LaGuardia airport, aides called from the motorcade to book seats for Gore and a mini-detail of Secret Service agents on a US Airways shuttle. Air Force Two's crew members, still at their hotel and not scheduled to fly until the afternoon, could not be mobilized that quickly in a non-emergency.
But Gore arrived on Capitol Hill to find Republicans lining up in favor of the bill.
"Theater," Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a Bradley supporter, said of the day's stagecraft. "Just when you thought you've seen it all."
The bill in question would prohibit people found to have violated laws protecting abortion clinics from using bankruptcy proceedings to escape fines and civil judgments. Republicans denied they backed the bill merely to stop Gore from voting, even while making it clear they did not much like the legislation.
Gore's lead among women was in the teens in some tracking polls a week before the New Hampshire primary, but Bradley shrank the gap as he criticized the vice president for being untruthful on his abortion record and other matters.
Exit polls found that Gore won among women by 6 percentage points _ 53-47 _ and that women made up the bigger part of the Democratic electorate.
While Gore's record in the Senate from 1986 until he moved to the vice presidency in 1993 was scored solidly in favor of abortion rights by activists, his earlier words and votes are at odds with his claim in New Hampshire that he has "always been pro-choice." Under questioning, Gore later admitted he has changed his mind on some abortion matters.
In the House, Gore supported amending the definition of "person" in civil rights legislation to include a fetus. He also opposed Medicaid financing of abortion in all cases _ including rape and incest _ except where the woman's life was in danger.