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2008: The Case for Al Gore

For Al Gore watchers, it's deja vu all over again as the former vice president is being talked up as a presidential candidate by the Democratic Party's chattering classes.

Al Gore
Is Al Gore the only Democrat capable of beating Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries? Above, the former veep speaks at the Jeddah Economic Forum last weekend in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

In 2004, Gore passed on a rematch against President George W. Bush, a decision that created a wide-open primary race that eventually produced John Kerry as the Democratic nominee.

Less than two years later, the "will he or won't he" guessing game once again surrounds Gore. Asked directly about the possibility of a bid, Gore told the Associated Press last October that he had "absolutely no plans and no expectations of ever being a candidate again." And while sources familiar with Gore's thinking insist he meant what he said, a quick parsing of that denial leaves the former vice president plenty of wiggle room.

In the spirit of fostering a political debate on the merits of a Gore 2008 candidacy, we'll use this space to argue both sides of the issue. Today, the case for a Gore candidacy. On Thursday, The Fix will make the case against it. Please chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section below.

Run Al, Run!

The first hurdle for any Democrat considering a 2008 presidential bid is financial. Fundraising is always important to any presidential candidate, but the bar is raised considerably higher for the 2008 cycle because of the likely candidacy of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

At the end of 2005, Clinton had raised $33 million for her reelection bid this November. Roughly two-thirds of that total ($21 million) came in the last twelve months, and Clinton ended the year with a whopping $17 million in her bank account. Assuming Clinton will raise at least another $20 million this year and that Republicans will give her nothing more than a nominal challenge in November (as seems increasingly likely), she may end the year with $25 million in the bank -- all of which could be directly transferred to a presidential bid.

So the bidding starts at $25 million in terms of what a candidate needs to raise to mount an effective challenge to Clinton. The Democrats who appear able to meet that high bar are John Kerry and Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.), former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

And Gore. During his 2000 campaign, the former veep raised approximately $50 million for the primaries before accepting public financing in the general election. Following his defeat, Gore founded Leadership '02, a political action committee that raised $1.7 million in the 2002 cycle, disbursing the vast majority of it to Democratic candidates running for state and federal offices. The committee has largely been inactive ever since.

Gore carries a "rock star" appeal (in the words of one former Gore strategist) in the eyes of many of the party's biggest donors -- especially in Silicon Valley and Hollywood. As evidence, look no further than the reception Gore received last month when "An Inconvenient Truth" -- a documentary about Gore's quest to focus the public's attention on the issue of global warming -- played at the Sundance Film Festival.

The next challenge for a candidate hoping to best Clinton in the primaries is to run to her ideological left. Clinton has drawn criticism from the activist community for her unwillingness to call for either an immediate withdrawal or a scaling back of the American military presence in Iraq. Clinton's 2002 vote backing the use of force against the Hussein regime never sat well with the most liberal elements of the Democratic party.

Among the group mentioned above, however, none except Gore has a "pure" record of opposition to the war. Bayh, Kerry and Edwards all voted for the use of force resolution; Warner did not have to vote on the measure, but his moderate record and rhetoric as governor make it extremely unlikely that he would try to run to Clinton's ideological left. All four men later criticized the handling of the Iraq occupation and reconstruction, but that may not satisfy liberals who never favored the war.

Gore, therefore, is the lone candidate who can stay competitive with Clinton on the fundraising side while drawing a major contrast with her on the biggest issue on the minds of voters.

For Gore, besting Clinton in the primaries would have to begin in the Iowa caucuses. Gore retains a loyal following in the state and is particularly strong with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers. In 2000, support from these two key labor constituencies helped Gore beat Sen. Bill Bradley in the caucuses, a win that set the tone for his surprisingly easy dispatching of Bradley. "Iowa was the best part of the Gore campaign," said one Democrat affiliated with the 2000 effort. "People had direct access to Gore -- they loved it and so did he."

Thursday: The Case Against Gore.

(For more on the 2008 money chase, check out the recent Friday Line on the winners and losers of 2005.)

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 14, 2006; 10:40 AM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , Eye on 2008  
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