Say goodbye to those sighs

By Sandra Sobieraj, Associated Press, 10/11/00

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Just when Al Gore had perfected that exasperated debater's sigh, he had to drop it -- nudged by a buffoonish look at himself on "Saturday Night Live."

"A few less sighs, absolutely," Gore pledged before sitting down to Wednesday night's debate table next to George W. Bush.

The night before, aides showed Gore a videotape of "Saturday Night Live's" wicked parody of the first presidential faceoff. Gore was cast as a smarty pants who sighed into the microphone whenever he wasn't hogging it. Bush was lampooned as empty-headed and so incapable of correct pronunciation that he identified foreign heads of state as Leader 1 and Leader 2.

Gore, who already had been criticized for days for his sighing, reportedly found the skit "hilarious."

To loosen and lighten his presentation, he has been working with veteran image consultant Michael Sheehan, an expert on camera angles, lighting and stage direction who also coached Bill Clinton in 1992 and Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.

It was in the winter primaries, when Gore could see his breath with each puff, that he first employed the exaggerated, exasperated sigh to try to undercut -- without using his own time -- whatever argument Democratic rival Bill Bradley was making.

Now, the professional and popular advice is to lose it.

But strategist Tad Devine wouldn't guarantee a total disappearing act. "Now if Governor Bush says something REAL exasperating. ..."

Another fix from last week's first of three presidential debates, when some Gore allies complained the candidate looked "too rouge-y": a new makeup artist.