07/27/1992 at 01:00 AM EDT
WHEN BILL CLINTON PICKED SEN. AL Gore of Tennessee as his running mate, he acquired—perhaps intentionally—both a counterpart for himself and a counterpoint to his wife. Together, Tipper Gore, 43, and Hillary Clinton make a striking combination—crusading homemaker and supermom lawyer. While Gore has a penchant for cookie baking and a softer style than Clinton's, she is unlikely to crumble under pressure. Indeed, few in the music industry have forgotten her ultimately successful battle in 1985 for parental warning labels on sexually explicit and violent rock albums. (Frank Zappa once called her a "cultural terrorist"; Madonna
can't abide her.) Says Marvin Kalb of Harvard's school of government: "In a funny way [Tipper's] almost a godsend for Governor Clinton. She is so proper and so closely identified with the values issue."
Tipper Gore's reemergence on the political scene comes after one of the most traumatic episodes in her life. In April 1989, as Al Gore and his 6-year-old son, Albert III, were leaving a Baltimore Orioles baseball game, the little boy was hit by a car and thrown 30 feet. Battered and unconscious, he was rushed to the hospital, with his leg and ribs broken and his internal organs crushed. For a harrowing month, Al and Tipper barely left their son's hospital bedside. When they brought him home in a full body cast, they set up a bed in the dining room and for three months slept, in alternating shifts, on a mattress on the floor next to him. Together, the Gores sought counseling, in part to deal with Al's feelings that he should have been able to prevent the accident. Says Tipper: "Our marriage wasn't in trouble. Whenever a parent has a child injured, and particularly when you're with the child and you see it happen, you have tremendous guilt. I found [the counseling] to be invaluable."
But their lives were turned topsy-turvy. Says a friend of Tipper's: "I remember one thing Albert III said to them—I can't get well without you.' " With that, Al Gore, who had just finished a failed bid for the 1988 presidential nomination, decided against a 1992 run; Albert is now fully recovered and playing sports. Tipper, says the friend, "pulled back from doing a lot of the public things" she had become known for. "I think because of the time that we spent together, we've become much stronger as a family," Tipper says.
Having decided against the presidency, why have the Gores agreed to run for the No. 2 job? Apart from a sense of duty to the country, Tipper says, "it's a 3½ month campaign. Otherwise it would have been 18 months, and we didn't want to go through those disruptions and separations." One thing, however, takes some adjustment: "The Secret Service did just land on my lawn." She shares a concern over privacy with her new partner, Hillary Rodham (Minion: "We very much want to protect our children from feeling insecure or intruded upon."
Born Mary Elizabeth Aitcheson, Tipper—her childhood nickname, from a lullaby—was raised in Arlington, Va., by her mother and grandparents (her parents divorced when she was 2, and she saw her father on Sundays). She met her future husband, son of Albert Gore Sr., longtime Senator from Tennessee, at a high school dance at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., which Al attended. Married in 1970, they have four children, Karenna, 18, Kristen, 15, Sarah, 13, and Albert, now 9. Living at first in Nashville, the couple worked for The Tennessean—he as a reporter, she as a photographer—before Al began his political ascent. Today their main residence is the Arlington house her grandparents built.
Tipper remains in solid command of the home routine. She chauffeurs the kids to and from school and also drives the motorboat when the kids go waterskiing. She joins the family in all their activities—swimming, hiking and, now, rollerblading (Al gave Tipper a pair for her 40th birthday). But Al and Tipper have a political as well as a romantic partnership. "I don't think [Al] comes home and says, 'Guess what, I'm running for President—hope you don't mind,' " a close friend of Tipper's says. "They work as a team. She's not some sort of steel magnolia who makes decisions for him, but she lets him know what she thinks."
MARGIE SELLINGER in New York City