Gore would have two more chances; his next debates were scheduled for October 17 and October 27. But before that, I was up. The Gore campaign sent a small cavalry of its top consultants to Kentucky for last minute coaching. So, as Stan Greenberg put it, "early early early" the morning after the first Gore-Bush debate, an exhausted Greenberg, Eskew, Shrum, and Tad Devine boarded a plane for Kentucky. In retrospect, most would regret it. The Bush camp had been quick to attack Gore in its postdebate spin, and the next day it started running a sarcastic TV ad called "Trust," in which Bush was presented as a man who keeps his word, while Al was run down as a man who does not. It would have been wiser to keep the team in Nashville to coordinate the counterattack.
They did get to attend my best and last practice. I was more comfortable and confident. In response to an early question, I managed to work in a joke someone had prepared about the Gores' poor arthritic dog, Shiloh. Of Barnett's "Cheney" — after he attacked Gore — I said, "He's not only an attack dog, he actually attacked a dog." Jonathan had packed the house so I could get used to a live audience, and the room rocked with laughter. I never got to use the joke in the real debate. In retrospect, I think that was fortunate. It doesn't seem so funny now.
I felt good; I felt ready. But I badly needed a solid night's sleep, and the campaign had asked Hadassah to appear on a few network television shows the next morning. She'd have to get up at 5:30 A.M. It was unthinkable that we would sleep in separate bedrooms, but how could she get up without waking me so early on my big day? The solution: Heather Picazio would tiptoe into our bedroom and squeeze Hadassah's big toe until she got up — all very quietly. Heather worried all night she would accidentally squeeze my toe. Fortunately for all of us, she didn't.
It's the evening of the debate and we're in the hold behind the stage at Newlin Hall in the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. There's been little to do all day except wrap up loose ends and stay alert. Earlier, Michael Sheehan, a speech coach who had given me some helpful pointers in Los Angeles, arrived and offered last minute advice. Brighten up and grin more broadly, he said, because the camera takes away about a quarter of your smile and you can look sour even when you don't mean to. Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, carefully fed me the name of the incoming president of Yugoslavia — Vojislav Kostunica (Kos-tu'-ni-cha). I practiced it until it rolled off my tongue. In Belgrade, reformers were storming the ramparts, and Slobodan Milosevic would be driven out in a matter of days. George W. Bush had badly bobbled a Serbia question in his first debate with Gore. There was no way a question on Yugoslavia would fail to be asked tonight.
The kids are all here backstage, as is my mother, my sisters, Hadassah's brother, and their spouses. "Let's sing something," I say, and Matt, with his big, rich voice, starts in:
This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine …