Remember Al Gore? The former vice president and presidential candidate who lost two years ago is back in the public spotlight, after a series of recent interviews, raising the possibility of another run for the White House in 2004. But, U.S. Democrats appear divided over the prospect of another Gore candidacy.
Al Gore was the envy of other Democrats who are considering a run for president this week, as he gave a series of interviews that marked the end of a two-year period of self-imposed political exile.
Mr. Gore says he will decide whether to run for president in 2004 by the end of this year. In the meantime, he is not shy about criticizing President Bush on a range of issues, including his handling of the economy and the war on terrorism.
On NBC's Today program, Mr. Gore said the president's focus on Iraq has been a distraction from prosecuting the war on terrorism.
"I think that we should focus our attention on the war against terrorism," he said. "I don't think we should have lost focus."
Democrats welcome the blunt criticism of Mr. Bush, especially after Republican gains in the recent mid-term congressional elections. But it is far from clear that Democrats would embrace another Gore run for the White House.
Many Democrats blame Mr. Gore himself for losing the 2000 election. Political analyst Martin Schram says Al Gore will have to undergo a political transformation between now and 2004, if he is to make a serious run for president. "I think that, if he uses the time that he is not in office to accomplish something he never accomplished in all his years in office, which is to start acting like a real human being instead of like a political robot, then he can succeed," he said. "If he can become a person, and convey that on television, then he does have a chance to mount a comeback, because the Democrats are candidate-light."
Apparently, Mr. Gore has been paying attention to some of his critics. In his interview on NBC, the former vice president said if he runs again, he will try to be less programmed and more spontaneous.
"Oh, you know, I've learned the importance of just letting the cards fall where they may, letting the chips fall where they may, just let it rip and let the rest of it sort itself out - whether I'm a candidate or not, that is what I intend to do," he said.
As flawed a candidate as many perceive him to be, Mr. Gore would have some important advantages over other Democrats, should he decide to run again. He has by far the highest name recognition of any of the possible Democratic candidates at this point, and he is also a proven fund-raiser, a critical part of running for president.
Fred Barnes closely follows U.S. politics as editor of The Weekly Standard magazine. He says that, despite his liabilities, Mr. Gore would have the early edge in the battle for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, if he decides to run.
"I think Democrats are going to be a lot more receptive to a presidential run by Al Gore in 2004 than you would know from the Democratic elites in Washington, who would like to see a new face," he said. "But Gore is doing what a lot of rank and file Democrats want, I think, and that is to be strongly critical of President Bush on domestic and foreign policy, even if that means moving to the left in a country that seems to be moving to the right. Well, they are going to be happy with that. I think this means that Gore probably will run, and should be regarded as the front-runner."
Plenty of other Democrats believe it is time for a fresh face to challenge President Bush in 2004. The field of likely Democratic candidates is a mix of new and familiar figures that includes Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Vermont Governor Howard Dean.
Another Democrat, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, would like to run for president, but has pledged not to, if Al Gore decides to go ahead. Senator Lieberman was Mr. Gore's vice presidential running mate two years ago.