It was music to the ears of Democratic congressional hopeful Michela Alioto when Vice President Al Gore told a crowd of her supporters here that he had entered Congress at the age of 28.
"I'm a little attached to this race," Gore told Alioto's supporters late Saturday night. "She is exactly the same age I was when I was elected to the Congress of the United States. I know what that enthusiasm, competence and dedication can bring."
"A little attached" may have been understating the case, for Gore's visit here required his riding an airplane much of Saturday night and until dawn Sunday--flying from Illinois to Northern California, then back to Michigan, all to give a tribute to a former assistant now seeking a seat in Congress.
The words were clearly welcome.
"It helps that last night he talked about how he was my age when he was elected to Congress," Alioto said in an interview Sunday. "My age is the one thing that they use against me. What they try to hang me on is that I'm inexperienced. His association with the race helps to dispel that."
Whether it has that effect or not remains to be seen. "It won't swing anyone they don't already have," insisted Beau Phillips, campaign manager for Alioto's opponent, Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Windsor).
But the trip did clearly illustrate something about Gore: just how far he is willing to go to help a former aide and a potential ally on Capitol Hill.
Gore had scheduled a trip to Northern California's 1st Congressional District last Tuesday, but crosswinds were so heavy that Air Force Two circled for more than two hours and could not land. Gore addressed the crowd gathered for the rally by telephone and pledged to return before the election.
Some advisors had told him to skip the return, Gore told several hundred supporters at the Armijo High School gymnasium here Saturday.
" 'The weather made it impossible to go there,' " Gore quoted his aides as saying. " 'You'll just have to blow that one off.'
"I said: 'No way. I'm coming back here no matter what. We're going to elect Michela,' " Gore added as the crowd roared its approval.
Although his remarks represented the first time Gore had campaigned in Alioto's district, they were not the first high-profile plug he has given her. Gore selected Alioto to second his nomination at the Democratic National Convention, giving the young politician, locked in a neck-and-neck race, a chance to give a speech on national television.
The 1st District is known as the state's most fickle. No one knows this better than Riggs, who won the seat in 1990, lost it in 1992 and won it again in 1994.
Alioto, granddaughter of the late San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto, first worked for Gore during his 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, serving as his student coordinator in Southern California while she attended UCLA.
In 1992, Gore helped her land a job at the Democratic campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. From there, she went to the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House, where Gore's staff has its offices and where she was known for doing wheelies down the hallways in the wheelchair she has used since a skiing accident 15 years ago left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Alioto's supporters said they hope Gore's efforts will help her pull away from the incumbent and become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
"I'm really glad he was able to come," said Irine Blancaflor, 20, a college student and Alioto booster. "It shows how much he believes in her."
For the last two weeks, Gore has been campaigning for Democratic candidates in close congressional races, dropping their names and accomplishments into his basic stump speech. But no one's name and character had been woven into his speech as intricately or glowingly as Alioto's. Gore was clearly trying to counter characterizations of Alioto by her opponents as too young and idealistic.
"I've worked with a lot of people in the White House and during my years of public service--I have never worked with any man or woman who is as competent, dedicated, enthusiastic and effective as Michela Alioto was in the White House," Gore said as Alioto sat beside him beaming.
Unlike Riggs, Gore said, Alioto would "put you first, not some ideological agenda, and not Newt Gingrich and not Bob Dole."