By Bill Boyarsky
I don’t know Al Gore’s plans, but here’s what I’d tell him to do if he wants to be president: Ignore New Hampshire and Iowa. Hope Hillary fizzles. Bet the house on early February when the big states have their primaries, and he could win the biggest, California.
Something like this almost happened nearly 40 years ago when Robert F. Kennedy became a late entrant in the 1968 presidential primaries. Today, it is only a remote possibility. The nation has changed greatly since then. And Gore is a different man from Kennedy.
Still, it is impossible to avoid thinking about a man who won the popular vote when he ran for president in 2000 but was cheated out of his victory by a Republican-controlled Supreme Court.
Winning the Nobel Peace Prize sparked all the Gore talk, which has also been fanned by a certain reluctance among many Democrats to embrace the current favorite, Clinton, or Barack Obama or John Edwards.
Another plus for Gore is his position on the Iraq war. He warned against the war before it started. On Sept. 23, 2002, he told the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, ” I am deeply concerned that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century.”
Of the front-runners, only Obama was that farsighted, while Clinton and Edwards voted in the Senate for the war.
In talking about a possible Gore candidacy, it’s tempting to see some resemblance between this year and 1968. Today we are mired in an unpopular, wrongheaded war led by a president who commands little respect or affection. Standing on the sideline is an articulate political leader who opposed the war while others dithered.
But this is a different America. By 1967 the Vietnam War draft had reached deeply into the middle class. In contrast, a volunteer Army with many young working-class men and women just out of high school is fighting our current war. Today’s war machine impacts only the relatives, friends and neighbors of dead and wounded soldiers. The rest of America doesn’t even have to pay higher taxes to cover the war’s huge costs.
Gore is no Kennedy. Robert Kennedy was afire with passion, a man of the ‘60s. Gore is a solid and sensible man, well suited for today’s techno-culture but not a great campaigner. He pulled his punches on the stump, which Robert Kennedy never did.
To visualize a Gore candidacy, you have to throw out everything that is being written or said about the importance of the first two Democratic contests, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. First of all, why should we give a damn about them? These two small states are of interest only to their residents and to the political writers who flock there.
Thus Gore should let Clinton, Obama and Edwards damage themselves in these small outposts of democracy. The most important date is Feb. 5, 2008. That’s when the big states, and some small ones, hold primaries. It’s being called “Super Duper Tuesday,” the closest thing we have to a national primary.
They include California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. Also among them are smaller states that are much more reflective of the nation than either Iowa or New Hampshire, including Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Montana and North Carolina.
One of the dilemmas faced by Gore is that he or his supporters would have to take some action before Iowa and New Hampshire. For example, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2007, is the deadline to enter their delegations for the California primary, although there is some leeway.
Perhaps history is a guide. In 1968, as opposition to the Vietnam War grew, Robert Kennedy could not decide whether to challenge President Lyndon Johnson and Sen. Eugene McCarthy, the leading anti-war candidate, who was not perceived by many as a winner. But on March 4, two days before the deadline, Kennedy, still undecided, called his California ally, Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, and said, “OK, get me on the ballot. But don’t get caught at it.” An Unruh aide got a draft-Kennedy group to file the papers. A day or two later, Kennedy entered the race; he won the primary and was assassinated on election night.
Draft-Gore groups are being formed. The Web site AlGore.org, The 2008 Grassroots Draft Campaign, claims the existence of 249 of them.
It’s up to these groups to put Gore’s name on Super Duper Tuesday state ballots. Then it would be up to Gore to disown them.
“I am not planning to run for president,” Gore said on “The Today Show” in 2006, and he has not varied from that position. “I am involved in a different kind of campaign to change the minds of people in our country and around the world on why the climate crisis is the most serious crisis we have ever faced ... ,” he said.
Nor does there seem to be a Gore ground swell. The Associated Press reported that the latest Gallup Poll showed that 54 percent of those surveyed said they would not like to see him run.
Gore’s statements and the poll seem to be the final word. Yet, despite President Bush’s efforts to ameliorate the war’s impact, the Iraq conflict will be the central issue of this election, and except for Bill Richardson, the top Democratic candidates would keep us there for some time.
Gore has a different and broader take on the war, tying it to global warming. “The climate crisis is caused by the burning of all these fossil fuels and our entanglement in the Persian Gulf region where the biggest reserves are to be found is linked to it, ” he said.
Right now, the political correspondents and analysts are awarding the nomination to Clinton. But her lead is a product of polls and spin, ephemeral in a country bogged down in the Iraq war. Before the candidate is chosen, Democratic eyes may turn elsewhere.
AP photo / Mel Evans
Al Gore 2.0: The environmental activist takes the stage at Giants Stadium in New Jersey last July 7 during the Live Earth concert extravaganza.