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Democrats Begin Run for White House - 2002-04-15

President Bush continues to enjoy high public approval ratings, largely because of his response to last September's terrorist attacks. But that has not deterred several Democrats who are considering a run for the White House in 2004 from marketing themselves to party activists.

The most important question is will Al Gore run again? In a recent speech to Democrats in Florida, the former vice president continued his re-emergence into the political arena with a strong attack on the Bush administration's domestic policies. "They are wrong to vilify honorable men and women who oppose their right-wing domestic agenda and who oppose their blatantly dishonest budget," he said.

But opinion polls indicate that Democrats are divided about another Gore candidacy, and several other prominent Democrats seem poised to make a run for the White House even if Mr. Gore decides to run again.

Among them is Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri, the leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Gephardt made a failed bid for the party's presidential nomination in 1988 and could become the next Speaker of the House if Democrats win back the House in this year's congressional mid-term elections. Mr. Gephardt says he will decide about a presidential run after the November mid-term elections. In a recent speech to a liberal Democrat group here in Washington, the congressman said that Democrats should focus this year on winning back control of the House and solidifying their narrow control of the Senate. "We want to reclaim this country," he said. "We want to involve the people in their own governance. We want them to claim the power that they have to make this country fulfill its final and wonderful potential. Let us go get it done in the (congressional mid-term) election of 2002. Let us win back the House [of Representatives]," he said.

Several Democratic senators are also considering a run for president. They include Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

Senator Lieberman was Al Gore's vice-presidential running mate in 2000 and has said he would only run for president if Mr. Gore decides not to.

Another possible contender is Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, an energetic campaigner who reportedly was Mr. Gore's second choice as a running mate, "I think people are hungry for what I would describe as principled leadership," he said. "People who are willing to stand up and fight for the things that they believe in, who are not putting their finger up in the air and saying each morning, 'Which way is the wind blowing today? What are the poll numbers today?"

With no clear favorite at this point, some less well known Democrats are also considering a White House bid. They include New York civil rights activist the Reverend Al Sharpton and Vermont Governor Howard Dean who gears his appeal to the party's liberal wing. "If we do not stand up for the principles of this party, we are making a terrible mistake," he said. "And I do not care if the president's favorability rating is 110 percent, the truth is that working people in this country are still struggling through the decade of prosperity and now through the recession."

These Democrats are out earlier than ever testing the political waters for two reasons. First, those who are not well known are trying to raise their political profile. And second, they need an early start to raise the millions of dollars necessary to mount a national campaign.

Opinion polls suggest that despite doubts about Al Gore, he still garners the most support among Democratic activists at this early stage in the process.

The polls also indicate that New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is their second choice for a nominee, but she has repeatedly said she will not run for president in 2004.