Speculation about Gore’s inclination to thwart Hillary has grown in lockstep with the mounting disquiet over her status as the Democratic front-runner. The disquiet, says Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry, “comes from two things. It’s not just the sense that we’ve been into that soap opera before and we don’t need to see the country polarized again in that unique way that the Clintons seem to polarize people. It’s also this new, edgier voice that’s emerging in the party, which says, ‘We have got to stand up for what we believe, and that means not standing in the mushy center.’ ”
What those who see Hillary as the Great Equivocator (or, if you prefer, the Great Triangulator) and those who see her as the Great Polarizer share in common are doubts about her electability. “We can’t afford to fool around anymore—we need to win the next election,” says Laurie David. “It’s not time to experiment with trying to put in office the first female president or with somebody people feel is such a polarizing figure.”
Hence the argument for Gore. To begin with, unlike all but a handful of Democrats, Gore, with his ties to the Netroots and his burgeoning personal wealth, could readily raise the requisite funds to take on Mrs. Clinton. Having loudly and steadfastly opposed the war, he could challenge her from the left. Yet on national security, he could simultaneously run to her right, given his long-held expertise about bombs and bullets and his advocacy of intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia; as a putative commander-in-chief, his credentials are beyond reproach (no small thing in an age of terror). Similarly, Gore’s anti-global-warming jihad would stand him in good stead with the greens and other liberals, while his long and demonstrated history as a moderate on countless other issues (from the deficit to “reinventing government”) would allow him to score with centrist Democrats who fear that Clinton is a once-and-future lefty.
Thus does the Gore 2008 bandwagon gather steam from coast to coast. “I’d quit everything to work for the guy if he’d run,” David says. “And I think the Hollywood community would do anything to support him.” Donnie Fowler, the San Francisco– based operative who was runner-up to Howard Dean in the race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, concurs: “Sure, I think he should run again. He’s speaking with no fear now about what he believes in, and that’s what the American people want from political leadership.”
The Washington Establishment, for its part, is more circumspect. Only one congressman—Jim Moran of Virginia—has called openly for Gore to run. And there are plenty of people inside the Beltway who doubt that Gore has overcome his shortcomings as a candidate. “He was god-awful in 1988, he was god-awful in 2000, and he’d be god-awful again in 2008,” says a Democratic think-tank maven. “This whole world-is-ending spiel is very dark and unattractive.”
But McCurry, among others, believes the party “would be receptive” to a Gore candidacy. “Rank-and-file Democrats, in a primary setting, are only going to have one thing on their minds: winning. If people watch Gore and think, By God, this guy’s got what it takes now, it’s perfectly possible that he could be the candidate of the party.”
How Gore might fare in a general election would depend, of course, on whom the GOP chooses as its nominee. But at least one senior Republican strategist for a top-tier presidential wannabe maintains that Gore would be far tougher to handle than Hillary. “Gore has liabilities of his own,” he says. “But there’s just no question that hers are much deeper than his.” (This strategist even goes so far as to suggest a perfect slogan for the former vice-president: “No more Clintons. No more Bushes. Gore 2008.”)
No surprise, then, that the prospect of Gore redux is causing queasiness in the Clinton ranks. For some time, the thinking there has been that only two potential candidates have the capacity to toss the chessboard in the air, altering Team Hillary’s carefully calibrated plans: Barack Obama and Gore. And it is Gore who would produce the biggest fits—not least because he would bring to the surface all the old internecine rivalries and interfamilial weirdness of the Clinton years.
“Think about Bill,” an old Clinton hand says, half-jokingly. “You can see him talking to Hillary one minute, then ducking into his study to take Gore’s call and advise him on how to beat her. He’s Clinton, you know—he just can’t help himself.”
Al Gore stares across the table. He’s ready for the question. He’s probably been waiting for it since he first laid eyes on me.