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By Wolf Blitzer, CNN
(CNN) – It’s amazed me over the years how a few words spoken by a presidential candidate potentially can have an enormous effect. I’ve been thinking a lot about that while covering the Republican race for the White House in recent months. The candidates are under enormous scrutiny – as they should be. They understandably have to be very precise.
I’ve been especially sensitive to the words uttered by candidates since my interview with then-Vice President Al Gore in March 1999. He was already running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Here’s the exchange that caused an uproar and certainly had an effect on his eventual general election race against then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush:
“Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley, a friend of yours, a former colleague in the Senate?” I asked. “What do you have to bring to this that he doesn’t necessarily bring to this process?”
Gore replied: “Well, I will be offering my vision when my campaign begins. And it will be comprehensive and sweeping. And I hope that it will be compelling enough to draw people toward it. I feel that it will be.”
He continued: “But it will emerge from my dialogue with the American people. I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years.”
He then uttered these fateful words: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”
He ended this section of the interview with this: “During a quarter century of public service, including most of it long before I came into my current job, I have worked to try to improve the quality of life in our country and in our world. And what I’ve seen during that experience is an emerging future that’s very exciting, about which I’m very optimistic, and toward which I want to lead.”
It was a pretty thoughtful answer but the words about the Internet created a huge stir.
There were quick headlines that you probably remember asserting that Gore had boasted about “inventing” the Internet.
He never said he “invented” the Internet that but the label stuck and continued to plague him throughout the campaign. It probably still does.
He was referring to legislation he supported in Congress that helped promote the development of the Internet. But he wasn’t that precise in his wording, and that cost him.
As I said, it amazes me how a few words said during a tense campaign can have enormous ramifications.
I write this as a cautionary tale for the current candidates.
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