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Al Gore Begins to Emerge from Political Exile - 2001-09-05

Nine months after he conceded last year's disputed presidential election to George W. Bush, former Vice President Al Gore has begun to re-emerge from a self-imposed political exile. Mr. Gore says he is not sure yet if he will run again in 2004. But some Democrats are not waiting for him to make up his mind.

The last time most Americans saw or heard from Al Gore, he was conceding defeat in one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history. "This has been an extraordinary election," he said. " But in one of God's unforeseen paths, this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny.

Mr. Gore got high marks for his conciliatory speech last December. And, given the fact that he actually defeated George W. Bush in the popular vote for president, many Democrats are open to his running again in 2004.

This is American University presidential historian Allan Lichtman. "I think Gore would love to run again, : he said. "He thinks, rightly or wrongly, that he was robbed of the presidency and he is thirsting for revenge."

But other analysts are not so sure about another Gore campaign. John Geer is a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee who has closely followed Mr. Gore's career. "In the end, Gore is a very powerful figure, said John Geer. "He commands a lot of respect. And if he decides to jump in with both feet, he is going to be formidable and probably can manage to win the nomination if it is really what he wants and he gets a couple of key supporters and financial backers. Right now there is a lot of uncertainty, but he himself has to work out whether he wants to make another run because it is a huge investment of time and energy."

Mr. Gore echoed that uncertainty recently when he told a group of Democratic activists in Minnesota that he did not know what he will be doing in the future.

But other Democrats who have their eye on a presidential run in 2004 are already signaling that they will not wait for Mr. Gore to make up his mind.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry is one of several Senate Democrats considering a presidential bid. He was interviewed on NBC television, " think Al Gore is a person who has earned a lot of rights within our party," he said. "He is a person I like and respect, and I worked hard for his election. Whether or not, however, the party will be best served by his leadership at this time is going to obviously be put to the test to some degree because there are a number of people talking about running."

If Al Gore does run again, he will have to mend some political fences with fellow Democrats. Mr. Gore was often criticized for a wooden and uninspiring campaign style. And Professor Lichtman says many Democrats still question how he could have lost the election at a time when the nation's economy was strong. "So Gore is a one-time loser, said Professor Lichtman. "The party is unhappy with the kind of campaign that he ran and they will be looking for alternatives, but at this point there certainly is no clear heir apparent for the Democratic nomination."

In addition to Senator Kerry, other Democrats reported to be mulling a White House run, include Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt.

But no matter who decides to run in 2004, they all understand that it will be the state of the national economy that will largely determine whether President Bush or his Democratic opponent will have a political advantage going into the election.

Once again, Allan Lichtman, "I think, in the end, everything will depend on the economy," he said. "After all, it was Clinton and Gore who, back in 1992, had the slogan on the wall of their campaign office: "It's the economy, stupid." And I think it will be the economy again in 2004. If we are in a roaring recovery, then nobody is going to beat George W. Bush. But if the economy is faltering the way it was when his father ran for re-election in 1992, then I think Al Gore or any other Democrat can win."

If Al Gore is serious about another run for the White House three years from now, the next step in his political re-emergence comes in late September when he is to speak at a fund raising dinner in Iowa. Iowa will host the first presidential caucuses in early 2004.