- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

NEW YORK Al Gore yesterday snubbed the Democratic Leadership Council's conference, in which top leaders continued to criticize his 2000 campaign theme of "powerful versus the people," saying it cost their party centrist votes.
The former Democratic presidential nominee was conspicuously absent from the two-day DLC event here, where a parade of potential presidential rivals in the party pounded the administration on the economy and national security issues.
Mr. Gore cited a "scheduling conflict" even though he was in New York yesterday not far from the conference meeting with a book publisher.
When asked whether Mr. Gore had simply turned down the DLC's invitation, DLC President Bruce Reed replied, "Yes, that's right." A spokesman for the former vice president insisted there was no political implication in the no-show.
"He had a scheduling conflict and was unable to attend the conference this year," said Gore spokesman Jano Cabrera. "Sometimes people have conflicts."
Mr. Gore is a founding member of the DLC, which was formed in 1985 with a mission to reverse decades of leftward drift by the Democratic Party. At the time, Democrats had lost four of the past five presidential elections, including Walter Mondale's 49-state defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1984.
The centrist-leaning DLC has been increasingly estranged from Mr. Gore, whose campaign they believe tilted too far to the left in its populist "us versus them" corporate-bashing message. His more recent remarks about "greed" in the business world, in response to the corporate accounting scandals, have only widened that rift.
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Ed Rendell, a longtime DLC supporter, added to the growing criticism of Mr. Gore's rhetoric, saying that it had hurt the party and turned off many voters.
"I thought there was a way to deliver the same message without saying 'we versus them.' I think it does cost us some votes. I think it hurts," Mr. Rendell said in an interview.
"We wish Al had refined the message and not used the 'poor people versus the rich,'" said the former mayor of Philadelphia, who is running for governor of Pennsylvania.
"The people in the political middle, the moderates, are turned off by that kind of talk," said David L. Armstrong, the mayor of Louisville, Ky.
Mr. Gore, still widely considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004, has come under criticism at the conference from many former Democratic allies. Even his former running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, told reporters here, "It made it more difficult for us to gain the support of middle-class, independent voters who don't see America as 'us versus them.'"
"I think the strategy was wrong," Mr. Lieberman said, adding that "it was not likely to be successful."
DLC leaders, such as founder and Chief Executive Officer Al From, say it is important for the party to have a more pro-business, pro-growth message to attract centrist voters in the fall and win back the White House in 2004. But some of Mr. Gore's anti-corporate message seemed to echo among a few speakers yesterday.
"We have a corporate culture in this country today who put their financial interests ahead of the interests of their workers," said Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Mr. Edwards, who has begun putting together a preliminary presidential campaign bid, delivered a speech that broadly attacked the business community and the "high salaries being paid to CEOs."
"The workers of these companies need to know why the CEOs of these companies are getting paid and the reasons why," said Mr. Edwards, who also called for "not implementing the tax cuts for the richest 1 percent in the country."
"It makes no sense to give a tax cut to the richest people in America," he said.
In a post-address interview, Mr. Edwards initially said he agreed with Mr. Gore's 2000 message but later added that he thought "most business people in America are good, responsible people."
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, wrapped up the conference with a stinging indictment of corporate practices that detailed some of the abuses thus far exposed.
But, with Mr. From sitting by his side at the podium, Mr. Gephardt said at the end of his speech: "Most American business people are responsible and take care of their employees."
Robert Stacy McCain contributed to this report.

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