LOS ANGELES - Al Gore charged like a star quarterback through a gantlet of roaring fans Thursday night to claim the Democratic presidential nomination. On center stage at last, the seven-year apprentice offered a self-portrait of a studious fighter for America.
''I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight: I will work for you every day and I will never let you down,'' the vice president said in the finale to his party's four-day national convention.
The convention hall was awash in blue-and-white Gore pennants and flags. Gore waded through the thousands of delegates - barrel-chested in an open suit coat, both arms upraised, slapping high fives.
Delegates shouted ''Go Al go!'' as, in a 51-minute speech he insisted he wrote himself, their choice for president touched on their favorite issues, from campaign finance reform to education.
At the end, Gore and his family were joined by running mate Joe Lieberman and his family, as metallic confetti and balloons rained down.
Gore consistently trails in the polls against a Republican rival, George W. Bush, whom even Gore has called charming. Even as he drew adulation from a hall packed with adoring Democrats, Gore acknowledged up front his dry reputation.
''I know my own imperfections. I know that sometimes people say I'm too serious, that I talk too much substance and policy. Maybe I've done that tonight. But the presidency is more than a popularity contest. It's a day-by-day fight for people. Sometimes, you have to choose to do what's difficult or unpopular,'' he said.
Gore, who has struggled to outrun President Clinton's shadow since launching this campaign 14 months ago, told voters: ''We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president.''
He mentioned the president by name just once, calling him a partner and giving him credit for moving the country into the longest period of economic expansion in history.
Gore's widowed mother, Pauline, 87, blew him a kiss as the senator's son claimed the prize that eluded the senior Sen. Albert Gore, who died in 1998, and the younger when he ran in 1988. She presided in a sky box, with Gore's wife, Tipper, and their four children.
Gore used the evening program to try to introduce himself anew, despite 16 years in Congress and eight as vice president.
Earlier testimonials from friends and family colored in the corners of Gore's self-portrait: young farm hand, Vietnam vet, mountain-climber, surrogate brother to his sister's kindly widower.
Gore spoke of his exhaustive open meetings with constituents, which he promised to continue in the White House.
''I'm going to go out to you, the people, because I want to stay in touch with your hopes, with the quiet, everyday heroism of hardworking Americans,'' Gore said.
''... For almost 25 years now, I've been fighting for people.''
He outlined his stock proposals to create tax-free savings accounts for retirement and college tuition; alleviate the estate tax for people passing on a small business or family farm; increase the minimum wage; codify employment rights for gays and lesbians; hire 50,000 new community police; mandate child-safety trigger locks on handguns; protect abortion rights, and more.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said Gore only offered ''more of the same old language of class warfare, partisanship and division.''
On campaign finance, which continues to dog Gore since his 1996 activities remain under Justice Department investigation, Gore won a roar with his pledge to ''get all the special-interest money - all of it - out of our democracy.''
''I won't take no for an answer,'' he said.
Gore followed to the Staples Center's futuristic podium Mrs. Gore's gauzy, biographical slide show and an Oprah-style presentation of personal testimonials from friends and family.
Jim Frush led Gore and his teen-age son to the 14,411-foot summit of Mount Rainier last summer through rain, 30 mph winds, driving hail and fog.
''Grace under pressure, strength of character, perseverance. These are qualities that I want in a mountaineer and that we need in a president,'' said Frush, a Seattle-area attorney.
''Al always seemed to be a regular easygoing fellow,'' Bob Delabar said of the old Army buddy he remembers as a real cutup.
Gore enlisted after graduating from Harvard and then volunteered to go to Vietnam. There, Gore served seven months as an Army reporter. ''He chose to stand beside all of us and put his life on the line,'' said Delabar.
Steve Armistead, here to play down Gore's upbringing in Washington, D.C., with his senator-father, spent boyhood summers ''of hard work'' with young Al on the Gore family farm in middle Tennessee.
Also taking the microphone was spotlight-shy Frank Hunger, husband of Gore's late sister Nancy, who died of lung cancer in 1984 at the age of 46. Gore's companion on the campaign trail, Hunger spoke about the four Gore children.