Will Hillary Clinton go down in history as another Democratic candidate who narrowly lost the presidency thanks in part to a third-party candidate? Not if Al Gore has anything to say about it.
The New York Times reports that Clinton staffers have been in talks with Gore aides about the former vice-president hitting the campaign trail to emphasize the point that she’s the candidate most dedicated to combating climate change — and to make the case against voting for a third-party candidate.
“I can assure you from personal experience that every vote counts,” Gore told the Times via email. “The stakes are high for so many Americans. So I will vote for Hillary Clinton and I strongly encourage others to vote for her as well.”
The news is a bit of a surprise, as Gore was one of the last Democratic figures to throw his support behind Clinton; he officially backed her with a tweet on the opening day of the Democratic National Convention. Politico reported last fall that they have a complicated relationship stemming from rivalries in the Clinton White House and the 2000 election.
Ralph Nader has maintained that his campaign did not cost Gore the 2000 election, but New York’s Jonathan Chait recently summed up the three ways the Green Party candidate aided George W. Bush:
First, by insisting Bush and Al Gore were ideological twins, “Tweedledee and Tweedledum,” he aided Bush, who was trying to mute the ideological dimensions of the election, cast himself as a successor to Clinton’s agenda, and win on personal character. Second, he forced Gore to devote resources to defending otherwise solid Democratic states. And, third, he won enough votes in Florida to put the state into recount territory, allowing Bush to prevail.
Libertarian Gary Johnson is currently performing better than most third-party candidates do at this point in the election. The Real Clear Politics polling average currently has Clinton at 42 percent, Trump at 41 percent, Johnson at 8 percent, and Jill Stein at 3 percent. Johnson will almost certainly not reach the 15 percent needed to qualify for the debates, but, as Vox explains, there are still concerns that he could present a problem for Clinton. She and Trump are both historically unpopular for leading-party candidates, but among third-party and undecided voters, half think Clinton will win and 15 percent think Trump will win.
In other words, they may not want to see a Trump presidency, but they don’t think it’s imperative that they vote for Clinton to prevent that from happening.
A recent poll found that among young voters, Clinton has only a two-point lead over Johnson. The Times reports that the Clinton campaign will attempt to combat the problem in the coming days by dispatching young liberals’ favorite Democrats, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Clinton will also deliver a speech aimed at millennials on Monday in Philadelphia.
Clinton aides told the paper that they will broadcast more positive commercials focusing on the candidate’s economic policies and history of fighting for health-care reform as well. “It’s still shocking to them how little people know about her,” said William M. Daley, a commerce secretary for President Bill Clinton, referring to a focus group that found voters were unaware of her efforts to increase access to health insurance. “It’s a big problem for her.”
Gore certainly has an argument to make about the perils of voting for third-party candidates, but he can’t help Clinton on those last two points. Voters too young to recall the former First Lady’s highly controversial health-care push probably won’t be swayed by a guy who was vice-president when they were babies, and put out a climate-change documentary when they were in elementary school.