- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2000

Poor Al Gore. As Republicans wrap up their convention in Philadelphia, the vice president's campaign has been all but eclipsed by Gov. George W. Bush's vice presidential pick. Not wanting, I guess, to swim against the tide, they were reduced recently to peddling the endorsement of the left-wing Sierra Club, a given for Mr. Gore, into a three-day story.

National polls released over the last several weeks should be good news for the vice president. They show him continually within reach of Mr. Bush nationally, even if the state-by-state breakdown of poll numbers is not as encouraging.

But, even with that, Mr. Gore has a problem no one of any substance seems to want to be his running mate. He says he wants to keep the search private, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.

Take, for example, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. Not long ago, there was a flurry of publicity around the idea that Mr. Gore wanted him for the No. 2 spot. There were press leaks, followed by a secret Gore-Gephardt summit meeting, followed by a press conference all for the purpose of Mr. Gephardt telling Mr. Gore "no."

It is no secret that Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Gore do not exactly like each other. But Mr. Gephardt's refusal to accept the vice presidency is bad for Mr. Gore. He would be the ideal running mate.

He has run for president himself and would not be rattled by the scrutiny of a national campaign. As minority leader, he was national spokesman for the Democrats, making him well-known to the American people.

He has the strong support of organized labor, which views him as its best friend in Congress. Many union workers are uneasy about the vice president. Mr. Gore's radical environmental positions would, for example, eliminate many U.S. manufacturing jobs if made law. Mr. Gephardt reassures this critical constituency that its interests would be protected in a Gore administration.

Mr. Gephardt is such a strong choice that, had he an interest, he could name his own price for accepting the No. 2 slot. This could include everything from control of trade policy to veto authority over significant administration appointments, as well as the usual jobs for all the boys.

So why all the resistance? Is it just that they don't like each other and can't put it aside?

Mr. Gephardt says he is concerned that, running for vice president, he would jeopardize the prospects of Democrats regaining control of the House. He recognizes that, should he join the ticket, he would need to give up his House seat (and the chance to be speaker), even though Missouri law allows him to run for vice president and the House simultaneously.

Perhaps Mr. Gephardt believes he has a better chance of being elected speaker than of being elected vice president under Al Gore. Not exactly a strong expression of support or loyalty.

This suggests Democrats have already begun to plan how to win without Mr. Gore. They will make an honest effort, as many of them genuinely seem to want to win with him, but the first instinct of politicians being self-preservation, they will cut and run if they have to. Anyone who doubts this only need review the intense jockeying for position that went on among congressional Democrats for leadership positions during the short-lived Gephardt boomlet.

Democrats need to win control of the House. They see it within their grasp. And they may be so anxious for it that they might bail out on the vice president sooner rather than later during the fall campaign. So in addition to watching every move George W. Bush makes, he has to watch his backconstantly.

Poor Al Gore.

Peter Roff is a political writer and strategist living in Alexandria.

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