Look Who's Back

Al Gore, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, 8-11-01, where he participated in a bipartisan workshop.
AP (file)
In her latest commentary, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch looks at Al Gore's return to the national stage.

He's back, sort of. At least for '02. Mending fences in Tennessee. Sporting the beard and attempting a comb-over pompadour worthy of the late King from Memphis. Wearing an open-collared shirt, not quite earthy blue. Actually, he's just "rejoin(ing) the national debate." And rejoining it on his own terms.

Al Gore came back on Saturday night to toss some red meat to Democrats at a party fundraiser in the state he and his father represented for 48 years in Washington – the state that gave George W. Bush of Connecticut and Texas 80,000 more votes than it gave him in 2000. According to the Nashville Tennessean, it was a night for Tennessee pride. A big screen featured the University of Tennessee-Vanderbilt women's basketball game and Dolly Parton's little sister Stella was there to sing Rocky Top and Tennessee Waltz. Gore finally attacked Bush after a year of silence, though he pulled his punches on Enron referring to it as merely a "recent event." (Gore received $13,750 from Enron in the last campaign, which may have muted him a bit, though it pales in comparison to the $138,000 Enron gave to Bush.)

Gore's friends say he is a private person, still very undecided about another presidential bid, but he's sure that he wants to see a Democrat elected governor of Tennessee. His PAC, Leadership '02, will raise money for Democratic candidates this year. It is being run by a group of young staffers without the big names of past Gore campaigns. A former aide said that by the end of the presidential campaign, "you can't imagine the antipathy Gore had for the hired guns who he felt had no loyalty to him." That may have been mutual since most of them have gone off to seek greener pastures.

Some of the old friends – Carter Eskew, Peter Knight, John Emerson and Kiki McLean – are still talking to him and would be willing to help out again. But unlike the crowd that followed Walter Mondale from the White House to the private sector in 1981, these folks appear to have lives beyond the dream of a Gore White House.

While Gore was making amends back home, the man who was first runner-up as Gore's vice-presidential choice, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, was moving around New Hampshire in a trip organized by the guy who did that job for Gore two years ago, Nick Baldick.

Edwards is learning about one of the facts of life in New Hampshire: his big speech on Friday at New Hampshire Technical Institute was snowed out. Edwards finally got to the state on Friday night and did a series of house parties portraying himself as a populist son of a textile worker (as opposed to a millionaire trial lawyer) and a great friend of John McCain in these small group settings.

Edwards had two other big events in New England – a fundraiser on onday at the Harvard Club sponsored by New England Sens. Kennedy, Kerry and Reed; and his first C-SPAN "American Politics" segment (this year's version of "Road to the White House). So what if it was opposite the Super Bowl – it's a start. The titter around the fundraiser is the sponsorship by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. One Democrat said it was the mischievous work of Ted Kennedy, who cajoled Kerry into it with Edwards standing by his side. As for Kerry, himself a very active '04 wannabe, his staff says he's delighted to host a fundraiser for Edwards' re-election to the Senate in 2004.

The other '04 possibles were also out and about this weekend. Joe Lieberman, who may be regretting his "I won't run if Al does" comment, was at a Security conference in Munich and Tom Daschle was at the SuperBowl doing a fundraiser for New Orleans' native Sen. Mary Landrieu. USA Today reports that Dick Gephardt gave a prized Super Bowl ticket to New Hampshire activist Jim Demers.

A measure of how active these potential candidates have been, and how tentative Gore was last year, is in the political money each raised in 2001. Gore is the second lowest on the list, leading only Vermont Governor Howard Dean:

  • Gephardt: $575,589 raised by Effective Government Committee
    $1,486,050 raised by his '02 campaign
  • Daschle: $1,846,053 raised by DASHPAC
  • Kerry: $76, 000 raised by Citizen Soldier
    $1,632,470 raised by his '02 campaign
  • Lieberman: $1,244,702 raised for ROCPAC
  • Edwards: $731, 850 raised by New American Optimists
  • Gore: $392,514 raised by Leadership '02
  • Dean: $111,317 raised by Fund for a Healthy America

    Gore's allies say that if he decides to run again the supporters and the money will be there. They say the small amount he raised last year is because he didn't try. This is probably a fair assessment. But unlike 2000, the nomination will not be his for the asking, and party folks are expecting him to do more than merely rejoin the national debate. But Al Gore is on a journey of self-discovery and seems determined to set his own timetable for his next move.

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    A veteran of the Washington scene, CBS News Senior Political Editor Dotty Lynch provides an inside look at the issues and personalities shaping the political dialogue in the nation's capital and around the country.

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