- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

Watching Al Gore make his re-entry into the public arena after nearly two years out of the spotlight, I can say with confidence there is a substantial group of people who want him to run for president again in 2004. They're called Republicans.
Mr. Gore says he hasn't made up his mind whether to try again. But his pronouncements already have the calculated, prefabricated quality that distinguishes campaign rhetoric from normal human speech.
When he says, "I think there is virtue in just taking an unvarnished position as to what the best solution may be, and let the chips fall where they may," he brings to mind Richard Nixon walking on the beach in a suit and wingtips. How long, you have to wonder, did Mr. Gore spend coming up with that formulation? He can no more be unscripted and spontaneous in a political setting than Nixon could walk around in public shirtless and barefoot.
That's not necessarily Mr. Gore's fault. It's just his makeup. As with John Kennedy's struggle to feign physical vigor despite his many debilitating infirmities, you can even see it as a heroic effort to overcome the cruel limitations imposed by nature. But JFK couldn't make himself healthy by filling himself full of pills and potions. And Mr. Gore, even in the supposed liberation conferred by defeat, can't shuck all the habits instilled by a lifetime in the bosom of official Washington.
On paper, Mr. Gore has a lot going for him. He's universally known, he was part of a popular administration, he's highly knowledgeable about federal policy, and he got half a million more votes than the guy now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He obviously thinks he really won that election, and he may be right.
But none of these supposed assets is likely to help him much in another race. In fact, Mr. Gore's past service to his party will mostly be a burden. And his postelection legal battle, though popular with Democrats, left him with the image of a sore loser.
That's not really fair: He did, after all, get more votes than George W. Bush, and the combination of a very close race and numerous irregularities in the deciding state of Florida virtually guaranteed that the loser would contest the results. It could easily have been Mr. Gore who won the court fight and Mr. Bush who came out of it looking bitter. But Mr. Bush was the winner, and winning covers a multitude of sins.
If Mr. Gore runs again, he'll be running not only against other Democrats but against history. In the last 100 years, there have been only two occasions when a major party presidential nominee lost an election and then was renominated four years later Thomas Dewey in 1948 and Adlai Stevenson in 1956. Both of them ended up 0 for 2, which may be why neither party has tried it again. After Dewey went down for the second time, Alice Roosevelt Longworth remarked, "You can't make a souffle rise twice."
Mr. Gore's 2000 experience left even more damage than the usual wear and tear of a losing campaign, because he squandered advantages that usually assure victory, such as peace and prosperity. In the last weeks, Mr. Gore managed to blow a good-sized lead in the polls.
He lost mainly because of three presidential debates that everyone expected him to win, based on how he had previously trounced Ross Perot and Jack Kemp. But even though Mr. Bush performed nearly as badly in the debates as his detractors expected, Mr. Gore was even worse.
"I think most people would say we lost all three debates," his own campaign chairman admitted later. It wasn't a matter of the vice president being inarticulate or weak on details lapses that could be forgiven. It was a matter of him being unlikable, phony and prone to inventing facts. Mr. Bush looked confused and uninformed at times but he wasn't insufferable, and that was enough.
A New York Times-CBS poll released this week suggests that time has not healed Mr. Gore's self-inflicted wounds. It discovered that even though nearly 51 million people voted for him two years ago more than have ever voted for any Democrat for president a lot of them wouldn't do it again. The survey found 43 percent of Americans have a negative opinion of Mr. Gore, and only 19 percent a favorable view.
How could he overcome that huge disadvantage? Mr. Gore says if he makes the race, he will be different from the guy who ran in 2000. That might be a welcome contrast. But unfortunately for Mr. Gore, he won't be running against himself.

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