Hoedown before the showdown

Billy Ray Cyrus and Tony Bennett come out to help Al Gore carry his home state.

Published October 25, 2000 7:37PM (EDT)

As I write this, sitting in the Wildhorse Saloon in downtown Nash-Vegas, Patty Loveless is singing and someone appears to have clicked the "clap" button on Vice President Al Gore.

In his top-to-bottom denim duds, the Democratic nominee is standing robotically on the second tier of the immense bar. CLAPCLAPCLAPCLAP.

Gore's back in Tennessee, but it's not just time to party -- he's fighting for his life to win the increasingly Republican state that he represented for 16 years in the House and Senate.

To his right, his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., in a denim shirt and khakis, is far mellower. Clap (pause) clap (pause).

Near the press table, some Young Democrat has discarded an empty tin of long-cut mint Skoal.

We're in the throes of a $3.5 million night for the Democratic ticket, which has just in the past few days achieved polling parity with their rivals, Gov. George W. Bush and former defense secretary Dick Cheney.

The Dems have saved up their cash for these last two weeks of Campaign 2000, though that doesn't mean that they can stop raising cash, as they did big time with tonight's multi-event schedule: dinner, reception, Wildhorse musical tribute and a possible post-event dessert.

Gore, as of this year Mr. Campaign Finance Reform, later refers to the night as "by far the most successful event in the history of the state of Tennessee." An "event." He still can't manage to use the word "fundraiser."

Anyway, Billy Ray Cyrus kicks off the "event," even though he wrote and sang the Bush campaign's official theme song, "We the People."

According to Gore spokeswoman Julia Payne, Cyrus has since decided that he's a Gore man, and he has asked Bush to stop using his song. As long as he's putting the kibosh on his songs, he might want to consider throwing "Achy Breaky Heart" onto the list. Though when he sings it tonight, the crowd -- packed with the few well-off Democrats left in the state, as well as a plethora of International Union of Painters and Allied Trades members -- gives a loud cheer. As they do for singer Kim Richey and emcee Eddie George -- Tennessee Titans running back, former Heisman Trophy winner and "mah buddy," according to Gore.

Tony Bennett's on stage right now, pompadour frizzy and wild; suit shiny and gray with a red hanky in the pocket. He doesn't really fit in with the C&W theme of the night, but he's a star, so whatever. "The best is yet to come and babe, won't it be fine," he croons.

Lieberman and Gore soon bound onto the stage, spouses Hadassah and Tipper in tow.

"I gotta tell you, it was a pretty exciting thing when Al Gore asked me to be his running mate," Lieberman kvells. "But getting to meet Tony Bennett! Wow!" I know the joke's been told before, but the guy really does sound like the father from the sitcom "ALF."

Last year, Wildhorse Saloon got a few trophies at the World's Oldest Bar-b-que Contest: fourth place for its ribs, but first place for showmanship. It's not clear how much of the showmanship has rubbed off on Gore tonight.

Thanking the supporters and campaign workers, he starts off rather lamely.

"There's kind of a tradition in the Gore campaign -- in the Gore-Lieberman campaign -- of getting great friends together and having great events," he says.

But soon he picks it up a bit, reaching for a campaign riff from way back in '92. He envisions two different Nov. 8ths. In one, "You got a headache. You climb out of bed and you trip and stub your toe, and you hop over t'get your slippers on, and bump your head on the doorframe, and head toward the door. And you open it, an' the rain and the wind is coming in. It's still dark from all the clouds. You go pick up the paper -- it is soaked, through and through. You can barely read the front page.

"And so you lift it up and it's frozen partly to the bottom of the stoop. And you hold it up to the light by the door and you peel off the front page, and look at it through the light and it says 'Bush-Cheney Wins.'"

The crowd erupts in boos.

"There is another option!" Gore bellows.

Hoooray! says the crowd.

"Just before you wake up, a shaft of sunlight comes through the window and plays in the shadows on your eyelids. And you wake up to the chirping of birds on the windowsill."

More hoorays.

"The sweet smell of hot roasted brewed coffee comes wafting in from the kitchen. You hear the music of Tony Bennett on the radio. You dance your way past the fresh cut flowers in the hallway. You swing open the door to the rays of sunshine and you pick up the newspaper AND IT SAYS 'GORE-LIEBERMAN WINS!!'"

"It's up to you!" Gore says. Then, in the true spirit of a hoedown, he goes off to get some more money.

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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Al Gore Joe Lieberman