A Daughter In The Loop

Nearly nine months pregnant, Karenna Gore Schiff had no intention of taking the political stage last June. She had to get permission from her doctor just to fly to the kickoff of her father's presidential campaign. But when her mom, Tipper, woke up too hoarse to introduce Al, Karenna stepped up to the microphone to attest to her father's care "for his own children and for all of our children, for his own family and for all of our families." The friendly Tennessee crowd cheered wildly--but nobody in Gore's camp was surprised by the poise of this particular political daughter.

At 26, Karenna, a law student, has quietly joined the Gore campaign's inner circle. As the eldest of his four children, she can speak with authority on women and the Gen-X set, but she also chimes in on a wide range of strategic and policy issues. In past campaigns she helped prep her dad for debates and used her writing skills (developed partly in a stint at Microsoft's online magazine Slate) to hone his speeches. Karenna, already a pro at deferring credit, insisted in a NEWSWEEK interview that "I'm no expert and no professional." But, she added, "I can be another set of eyes and ears for him." In Gore's expensive phalanx of strategists, campaign insiders say Karenna stands out as someone the veep can trust unconditionally. "He's in a better place when she's around," says Gore media guru Bob Squier.

Even without Dad's running for president, it's a busy season for Karenna. In 1997 she married Drew Schiff, 33, a New York primary-care doctor. Just 18 days after her Tennessee appearance, baby Wyatt arrived with perfect patriotic timing on July 4. Now Karenna must juggle child care and her final year at Columbia Law as well as the presidential campaign. She admits that being a new mom may mean she'll spend less time on the road and more time checking out her father's speeches on the Internet or on C-Span. She also plans to head Gorenet, a network that hopes to attract Gen-Xers with fund-raisers, discussion groups and parties.

She's had plenty of time to get comfortable with big-time politics. Her father won his first primary on her 3d birthday. Family dinners often featured policy debates, with Al grabbing forks and knives as props. He once drove home a point about the SALT treaty by moving salt and pepper shakers around the table.

In the Gore house, politics was always personal. In the early '80s, when Al attacked Nestle for marketing its infant formula in Third World countries as an alternative to breast-feeding, Tipper banned the company's products from the pantry. Karenna, then 9, was horrified: her favorite drink was Nestle's chocolate Quik. (She still managed to sneak a slurp or two on the sly. "It was the forbidden fruit," she says.) As a teen, she took her share of teasing from classmates when rapper Ice-T wrote a sneering song about her mother's campaign to put warning labels on suggestive rock lyrics.

The hassles weren't enough to keep Karenna away from the family business. During her father's failed 1988 presidential campaign, Karenna, then 14, flew on his plane between classes and talked with him for hours about issues like homelessness and pollution. By the fall of 1996, when Gore was up for re-election as veep, Karenna traveled with him nearly full time. Fresh from a year in Madrid, she sometimes coached him on his Spanish. At each stop, while Gore delivered his stump speech yet again, campaign aides headed for a back room. But Karenna always listened attentively. After one appearance, she told her father he had been speaking too slowly. At the next stop, Gore raced through his remarks in record time.

Karenna's younger brother and sisters have managed to stay out of the spotlight: Kristin, 22, is an aspiring writer; Sarah, 20, is a student at Harvard, and 16-year-old Albert III is still in high school. Karenna herself shunned campus politics at Harvard, where she majored in American history and literature, and still seems to feel more comfortable as a student and mom. Over lunch with a NEWSWEEK correspondent last week, Karenna seemed a smooth blend of her mother's peppiness and her father's gravitas. She recently cut her trademark long, straight blond hair to a more mature shoulder length. It's "more maternal," she joked.

Karenna's higher profile has already prompted speculation about her own political future. For now, she says she is more interested in intellectual-property law and doesn't rule out a return to journalism. But she also bemoans her generation's cynicism. "I'm certainly very juiced up about public issues and political life," she says. Karenna Gore caught that enthusiasm from her father. Now it's her turn to teach the old man a thing or two about connecting.