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What Does the Goreacle's Endorsement Mean?

Former Vice President Al Gore's decision to endorse Sen. Barack Obama drew wall-to-wall coverage across the media spectrum.

But, will it carry significant weight with voters?

As always, we return the to handy dandy Fix Endorsement Hierarchy for the answers.

There's little question that Gore, given his current role as a global prophet on climate change and his past role as the man who "used to be the next president of the United States," ranks as a "symbolic endorser" -- the most important of all in the Fix hierarchy.

"Take it from me, elections matter," Gore said last night in Detroit, a not so subtle reference to the 2000 presidential election, which has become a touchstone within the Democratic Party.

"After eight years of incompetence, neglect and failure, we need change," Gore added. "After eight years when our Constitution has been dishonored and disrespected, we need changes."

Gore throwing his arm around Obama and saying, in essence, "this is my guy," shows a Democratic Party united in common cause and behind a common candidate heading into the fall. The former VP is arguably the figure of largest stature in the party now that former President Bill Clinton has undergone something of as diminution during this campaign.

That said, it's hard to imagine that Gore will win Obama a significant amount of "new" votes.

If you happen to be a Gore acolyte, it's likely that your fervor is built around one of two policy positions the former Tennessee Senator advocates: global warming (duh!) or the abrogation of the Constitution that Gore insists has gone on during the past eight years of the Bush administration.

Either way, those sorts of voters are almost certain to already be in Obama's camp and will see Gore's endorsement as validation.

For the truly undecided voter, Gore's endorsement is not likely to have a huge impact. Many people still see him through a hyper-partisan lens and his endoresment of a particular candidate is not likely to change their voting behavior.

Gore's endorsement, then, carries much less practical weight today than it would have six or nine months ago, when Democrats were in the midst of their primary fight. (Even then, it could have been a mixed blessing. Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean in late 2003 was seen as the final piece of the puzzle for the former Vermont governor. Instead it signaled the beginning of the end.)

So Gore's endorsement of Obama reaffirms partisan Democrats' support for the Illinois Senator but likely does little to help Obama among swing voters who are still trying to get to know him better before making up their minds. Obama is surely happy to have Gore's endorsement but any suggestion that it is a game-changer in the general election is a vast overstatement.

By Chris Cillizza  |  June 17, 2008; 2:40 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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