- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Democratic leaders yesterday praised Al Gore's gracious exit from the presidential race, but spoke cautiously about a potential rematch with George W. Bush in 2004.
"He's going to make those decisions [about 2004] in time," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said.
"He won't make those decisions in a vacuum. There are other people who have decisions to make and desires," Mr. Poe said.
The vice president's concession speech "suggested he was not leaving the scene," a Senate Democratic aide said yesterday.
But "there's a general feeling" among Democrats on Capitol Hill "that he gave it his best shot this time and now it's time for someone else to take up the opportunity," the aide said.
Speculation already surrounds other potential Democratic challengers to Mr. Bush, such as California Gov. Gray Davis, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, retiring Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who nearly became Mr. Gore's running mate.
Mr. Gore, 52, has said he would become "a writer of some kind," if he lost. The Harvard graduate also has been mentioned as a potential president of his alma mater.
The vice president said in his concession that he does not know what his future holds. Mr. Gore, who failed to carry his home state of Tennessee, said he will spend time at his family's farm in Carthage and "mend some fences literally and figuratively."
Mr. Gore still has a bright future and begins as the Democratic front-runner for 2004, said Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party.
"He has nothing to be ashamed of. He won the popular vote. If the votes were counted legally and fairly, he would have won," Mr. Torres said.
But Democrats privately criticize the vice president for failing to beat Mr. Bush at a time of peace and unprecedented prosperity, when President Clinton's job approval rating hovered around 60 percent.
They note that Mr. Gore failed to capture President Clinton's home state of Arkansas or traditionally Democratic West Virginia.
"There's a fair amount of second-guessing going on," the Democratic Senate aide said.
"One obvious topic of discussion is his unwillingness to send the president down to Arkansas" until the end of the campaign. "A lot of people are trying to understand how he couldn't carry his own state," the aide added.
"We have a tendency to [point fingers] when somebody loses," said David Leland, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
"Was it a perfect campaign? No," Mr. Leland said, suggesting that Mr. Gore gave up on Ohio's 21 electoral votes too soon.
"That's all Monday-morning quarterbacking," he said. "I would have to believe that if there is a front-runner today for the presidential nomination in 2004, he would have to be it."
Democrats and Republicans agreed that for all his assets Mr. Gore would have to fight for a second chance in 2004.

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