An alpha dog in tights?

Healthy candy and Al Gore dressed up as Underdog scared guests at the vice president's Halloween bash.

By Eric F. Lipton

Published November 1, 1999 9:00AM (EST)

When I walked into Al Gore's annual Halloween party Sunday night, I didn't know what to expect. Last year he and Tipper dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein. The year before, they were scary-looking zombies. The Frankenstein outfit, of course, was meant to combat the accusations Gore is "wooden." I fantasized that he might go as a scientist, inventing the Internet, or maybe a two-headed monster, constantly debating himself.

I didn't expect Underdog, the meek canine superhero of TV cartoon fame. Obviously, the veep chose his costume without the approval of his new campaign consultant, Naomi Wolf, who reportedly told him he's too "beta male" to be elected president. A flying dog in tights is certainly not an alpha male. "Underdog" itself was never very good, but thanks to Gen-X nostalgia it's quite hip now. Thus Gore's choice made some demographic sense, even if Wolf was disappointed.

So there was our would-be president, looking neither dull nor wooden, but strangely preschool in a red jumpsuit with a big doggy nose and floppy ears. Next to him was Tipper, in a white, curly wig, dressed as Underdog's love interest, a television reporter-poodle named "Polly Purebred."

It wasn't an official campaign event. But your tax dollars went to a few bazillion-watt orange floodlights to brighten up this harvest festival of the power elite. Invitations were given to only a select but seemingly random cross section of Washington's media corps.

Inside, no opportunity to decorate was overlooked. Even the metal detectors were decorated with gourds. There were scarecrows, hay bales and bedsheet ghosts. The centerpieces were several elegantly sculpted, morbidly obese jack-o-lanterns -- vegetables of pure artistic and engineering marvel.

As advertised, there were plenty of activities for kids, including an arts-and-crafts area, a basketball game, roving magicians and even a tub of floating plastic pumpkins presumably for bobbing purposes. But candy itself was largely ignored by the party coordinators. In its place were healthy snack treats. You know -- low-fat jelly beans, gummy creatures made with 2-percent real fruit juice. Sorry: nothing to dispel Gore's reputation as boring.

The costumes of the 200 or so attendees were similarly extravagant and politically harmless. There were several Y2K-themed togs, the best actually involving boxes of Special K cereal. Harry Potter, Austin Powers and more Darth Mauls than you could shake a double-sided light saber at fleshed out the rest of the crowd. There were also mock Secret Service agents, a few vampires, a wood nymph and even a couple of New York Yankee outfits. No, no one was dressed as a player for the New York Knicks. If Bill Bradley was invited, he didn't attend.

I wasn't sure if it was part of his costume or a personal choice, but when I finally made it through the receiving line to reach the vice president, he was wearing latex gloves. Underdog wore gloves, but this was a little weird. Maybe I missed the episode when Underdog volunteered at the hospice, but I also worried the veep might be taking a campaign tip from presumptive Reform Party challenger Donald Trump, who has made no secret of his fear of hand germs.

Hand germs were probably the scariest thing at Gore's Halloween party. But that's OK. You don't go to the vice president's Halloween party to be scared. That's what the White House Christmas party is for.

Eric F. Lipton

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Al Gore Democratic Party