- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Al Gore has returned to the political arena to test his strength for another possible run for the presidency.
He faces a large field of rivals for the Democratic nomination that party officials now say is "wide open."
The former vice president came out swinging Saturday against President Bush's domestic policies at a Democratic conference in Orlando, Fla., and looked as if he is eager for a rematch with Mr. Bush in 2004. But several of his potential rivals for the nomination also spoke at the two-day event, presenting the party with some fresh new faces that many Democrats say they want as their next presidential nominee.
While Mr. Gore remains the front-runner at this early juncture, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted April 5-7 found that he has lost significant support in his party. When Democrats were asked, "Do you want Al Gore to run for president in 2004, or not," 48 percent said no and 43 percent said yes. This is in sharp contrast to an identical survey last August when Democratic voters said they wanted him to run again by a 65 percent to 31 percent margin.
Another preference poll conducted at the end of March by pollster John Zogby showed Mr. Gore attracting only 33 percent of the Democrats, while nearly a dozen other Democrats collectively drew more 50 percent of their party's support. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came in second with 20 percent.
"I don't think these numbers mean much," said Democratic pollster Alan Secrest.
"A lot of Democrats are looking for a fresh face, but a lot of Democrats are eager for Gore to run again," he said. "What I hear from Democrats is that they have a wealth of choices. I don't think anyone feels obliged to go with the candidates they had last time when there are so many to be considered now."
Mr. Gore has not decided if he will run again, his spokesman said, although Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told reporters Saturday: "I think he will run. That's my personal opinion."
But a DNC official rejected any suggestion that Mr. Gore was the near-prohibitive favorite for the nomination because of the closeness of the contest in 2000 and his high name recognition.
"We're not in the business of picking favorites among our potential nominees. It's a wide open field for the Democratic nomination," said DNC spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri.
Also addressing the state Democratic meeting, which drew more than 2,500 Florida Democrats, were Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts, and Joseph I. Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd, both from Connecticut.
Several other potential candidates, including Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, did not attend.
Mr. Gore lambasted the administration for its policies on spending, education, the economy and the environment, but steered clear of foreign policy issues, suggesting that most Democrats were not yet willing to challenge the president on the war against terrorism in Afghanistan or how he has handled the war in the Middle East.
"We are a nation in a difficult time and Democrats are united with the president in fighting the war on terrorism. Elections are about differences and there aren't a lot of differences between the president and Democrats about the war," Miss Palmieri said.
Still, some of Mr. Gore's rivals took a few swipes at Mr. Bush over his policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Mr. Lieberman called the president's Middle East policy misguided and Mr. Edwards charged that the Afghan countryside "is going right back to chaos."
"Mr. President, do not win the war and lose the victory," Mr. Edwards said.
But for the most part Mr. Gore "is very supportive of how Bush has handled the war on terrorism to date," said Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for Mr. Gore.
"Gore has picked his spots and his issues carefully and has been very respectful of the grave issues that have landed on the president's plate. He has been careful of doing nothing that would impede the president's role as commander in chief," said Democratic strategist Bill Galston.

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