They secretly tried to get Muhammad Ali to be there when Joe arrived in Kentucky, because that's where Ali's from. He was willing, but he was returning from the Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and there was no way to make it happen in time. It would have really thrilled Joe; he's such a fan of Ali's.
I was tired. The fatigue I had suppressed on the campaign trail over the preceding weeks pushed its way out when I stopped to prepare for the debate in Kentucky and I had a lot of work to jam into just a few days. There was quite a large crowd of people — probably too many — in the house, available for research or any other need that might arise, but Sallet limited who could have contact with me. He didn't want, and I certainly didn't want, fifteen people making suggestions simultaneously. Camp rules were strict. Practice sessions were tightly organized, with a premium on giving me time to prepare by myself. Even Hadassah knew it would be better if she went off campaigning elsewhere in the daytime and returned at night.
Matt was there all week, and he was worried about Joe, although he didn't let on. But he told me he took a look at Joe and thought, Oh, my God. Where is he? What have they done with my father? Matt had never seen Joe so worn out. He said, "The light had gone out of his eyes. His brain was all there — but his soul wasn't coming through."
Matt wondered whether "the preparation had reached the point of diminishing returns. Dad is a very disciplined, very hard worker, and the preparation was feeding that part of him. And certainly there's a lot you can prepare, and there's a lot worth preparing and brushing up on. But was all this necessary?"
I was tired, and during some of the practice sessions I was tight, and I knew it. But when it was over, I was more prepared for this debate than I had ever been for anything like it in my life. And I was very clear about what I wanted to accomplish. Our goals were straightforward:
Remind voters of all the progress and prosperity of the last eight years, which our ticket was obviously best able to continue. Make clear the difference between Bush-Cheney and us on how we would use the new federal surplus responsibly to cut middle-class taxes, make investments in education and health care, and pay off the national debt.
Remind voters of our ticket's commitment to traditional moral values; reemphasize my roots, my faith, my values and Al's. Some of the characteristics that had led Al to select me as his running mate were getting lost in the campaign crossfire. We needed to reestablish that these values were at the heart of everything he and I planned to do.
Defang Cheney in what would presumably be his attack mode; and deflect and defend against all attempts to criticize Gore personally or to separate us as a team.
A few weeks before the debate, Al had said to me, "You know what Cheney's going to do during the debate, don't you?"
"What?" I asked.
"He's going to attack me. I hope you're ready."
Being a bit devilish, I said, "You mean at this big moment of my public life in a vice presidential debate, I've got to spend all my time defending you?"
Al was quiet for a second or two — and then he laughed heartily.