- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Democrats are wondering whatever happened to Al Gore, who had led an attack on President Bush's plans to disarm Iraq but now seems to be absent from the war debate being waged in Congress and throughout the country.

Many Democrats say they are mystified and disappointed that their party's former presidential nominee has not engaged in the debate more forcefully and frequently since the foreign policy speech he delivered in San Francisco more than two weeks ago. Some say his decision to halt his anti-war offensive reflects his indecision about running again for president and renews questions about his habit of constantly changing his political image.

"I think Al has had some difficulty in the past delivering a consistent message and is going through that same process again. The criticism of him in 2000 was that he kept reinventing himself," said South Carolina Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian.

"As a former vice president, he was a heartbeat away from the presidency, but in the context of being a presidential contender for 2004, he's not acting like one," Mr. Harpootlian said.

Many liberal Democrats who oppose taking military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power and destroy his chemical and biological weapons cheered Mr. Gore's Sept. 23 address. But now they admit to being deeply disappointed that he has not kept up a drumbeat of criticism to help the Democrats in Congress fight the war resolution that would give Mr. Bush the approval he seeks on Iraq.

"I think it is mysterious and disappointing that he doesn't stay in the debate and defend it. It is unfortunate that he has not done that," said Bob Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal Democratic organization that has been playing a larger role in the party's policy debates.

Mr. Borosage thinks that Mr. Gore has not been more visible and vocal in the ongoing debate since his speech because he has still not resolved "his own personal decision about what he's going to do in the future. Clearly that's an unresolved question in his mind, and his behavior reflects that."

But some Democrats think Mr. Gore could be hurt politically by being largely alone among major Democratic leaders on the war issue.

"Both from a political and a policy point of view, Gore will have problems with his opposition position down the road," said Massachusetts Democratic Chairman Phil Johnston.

"If we go into battle with Hussein, which appears likely at this point, the tendency of Americans will be to rally around the president. It means that those who did not support the president, which is Gore's position, will be even more in the minority," Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. Gore has delivered two major policy addresses in the past two weeks and has made only a few appearances lately to help Democratic candidates and raise money for their campaigns.

His foreign policy address last month sharply criticized Mr. Bush's war plans, warning the president that any military action against Iraq would "severely damage" the war on terrorism and undermine U.S. leadership in the world. A second address on the economy attacked the administration's fiscal and tax policies.

Some Democratic strategists, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that Mr. Gore was disappointed that so many Democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have decided not to follow his lead but rather intend to vote for the resolution of approval that Mr. Bush wants.

Mr. Johnston noted that it is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, "who has been the leader of the opposition" to Mr. Bush's war plans, "not Gore, who is the titular head of the party."

Mr. Gore's chief spokesman, Jano Cabrera, denied yesterday that the former vice president was dropping the issue since his address on Iraq and stressed that he had "made his position very clear."

"Gore's speech in California on Iraq in a lot of ways set the agenda for the debate and one of the reasons why he delivered that speech was to help start the healthy debate that is currently under way," Mr. Cabrera said.

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