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For Oprah, Gore reveals favorites, funny side

Some information Oprah teased from Al Gore: He fancies Chinese food, ruby-red stiletto boots and, in a presidential race that could be decided by women, whatever else the talk show diva and her 22-million devotees want.

His favorite cereal?

"Oprah," the Democratic presidential nominee replied. "Oh, I thought you meant serialized TV show." (Of breakfast cereal, which he confessed he doesn't eat much, he said his favorite is Wheaties.)

Gore's star turn Monday on Oprah Winfrey's season premiere opened a week in which he will be courting parents _ and trying to sustain his recent surge in polls among women _ with a focus on education policy.

From Chicago, he traveled to a Belleville, Ill., elementary school for a town meeting, where he promoted his new drive for "tougher penalties" to hold the entertainment industry accountable for marketing adult-rated material to children. "I think it's time to take steps that can actually help parents," he said.

In Winfrey's easy chair, Gore said he would use tax policy and new spending programs to help stressed-out working parents spend more time with their children. His response to a question about his greatest fear: "I really don't have a lot of fears. But if I had to single one out it would be forgetting the most important things in life: family and faith."

Winfrey, who has Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush lined up for Sept. 19, frequently interrupted as Gore lapsed into portions of his stump speech.

But she was also a willing straight woman, too. Is he tired of critics calling him stiff? she asked. Gore chuckled and replied, "They're going to say something, so compared to the alternatives. . . ."

Asked why she should vote for him, the eight-year vice president said, "I know something about the job of president."

She was still digging for revealing comments from the famously cautious candidate after the live broadcast. Winfrey, admitting she once swiped a bag of potato chips, asked Gore if he'd ever stolen anything.

He hesitated, "I don't think so," then gestured as if submitting to lie-detector wires. "Hook me up."

An audience member asked if he thought Bush's drinking, which the Texas governor says he quit at 40, might recur "under stress" as president.

Gore said he took Bush's talk of a "personal transformation" at face value, and he added, "You know, he's been governor for five years and, whatever else you say about it, he certainly hasn't given any reason for that question to be a matter of concern to people."

The hourlong broadcast showed Gore alternately caricaturing his reputation for pandering and then charming the mostly female audience with earnest talk of his family and "soul mate," Tipper.

When he recited highlights of Winfrey's TV journalism career in Nashville, Tenn., which overlapped with his tenure at the Tennessean newspaper, she was skeptical: "Do you really remember that or did you just research that?"

Gore also offered a peek at his rarely seen flirtatious side, playing footsie with Winfrey as he admired her spike-heeled, Dorothy-in-Oz boots.

Once ratted out on TV by his wife for sleeping naked, Gore flashed a sly squint when he replied to Winfrey's question about his favorite thing to sleep in.

"A bed," he said to titters from the audience. "You get the picture?"

Gore, who feels like he has been on a roll in warming up to voters since last month's Democratic National Convention, so eagerly leapt at the chance to be the first politician to grace Winfrey's stage that she said she had to skip the Sunday night Emmy presentations in Los Angeles even though she had already bought a gown.

Winfrey said she had previously stayed away from interviewing candidates because "I never felt like I could have a real, real honest conversation with them."

She is, however, a partisan who has given $12,000 to Democrats since 1992. On Monday, she wound up marveling that Gore was a "fun, funny guy."

"Hard to believe, isn't it?" he quipped.

Still, Gore left Winfrey complaining on one count.

"No kiss? I was hoping for something," she complained after Gore greeted her Monday with a handshake and one-armed hug.

In Belleville, a parent pressed him to defend his opposition to school-sanctioned prayer.

"You know the old line that as long as there are arithmetic tests, there will be prayer in the classrooms? Behind that joke is a serious point _ that, really, voluntary prayer is admitted today," Gore said.

"What I think is wrong is for the government through its school employees, to organize an effort to make everybody worship the same way or pray the same way."