- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Former Vice President Al Gore’s early endorsement of Howard Dean makes some wonder what Al is thinking, and proves beyond argument that Mr. Dean is thinking better than his rivals are.

The Gore endorsement also suggests real power in the Democratic Party today lies not with the party’s regulars, but with left-wing special interest groups whose deep pockets compensate for the harm Democrats did to themselves when they embraced the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

Mr. Gore’s embrace of the former Vermont governor provides Mr. Dean with a sheen of establishment approval. That sheen is more apparent than real. Mr. Gore has gotten the Rodney Dangerfield treatment from most Democratic poobahs, because he lost, and because most Democratic insiders think he ran a lousy campaign.

Mr. Gore personifies the anger that has propelled Mr. Dean to a widening lead. Mr. Gore, understandably, is more upset than any other Democrat with the outcome of the 2000 election. He is annoyed with the Clintons for slights when he was vice president, and, understandably, is more inclined to blame his defeat on the Clinton baggage he had to carry than on his own missteps.

And Mr. Gore’s pride was hurt because other Democratic presidential candidates were not actively seeking his advice and support. Mr. Dean may have gotten Mr. Gore’s endorsement chiefly because he was the only one who solicited it.

Mr. Gore’s endorsement helps in Iowa. Democratic activists think more highly of the former vice president than do the party’s leaders. But the primary benefit for Mr. Dean of Mr. Gore’s endorsement was the explosion of favorable publicity in what may be the last week before voters divert their attention from politics to the Christmas holidays. This will prevent any of his rivals from gaining traction.

The timing of the Gore endorsement was impeccable. Coming as it did on the day of a Democratic debate, it guaranteed that the endorsement — and not Dean bashing — would be the major topic at the debate.

So what’s in it for Al?

First, attention. Outside the Dean campaign, the number of Democrats thinking about Mr. Gore these last few months could be counted on fingers and toes. Now Al is back on the evening news. Fame is fleeting, but it is balm to a bruised ego.

Second, ambition. Mr. Gore would still very much like to be president. If a Democrat other than Mr. Dean wins the nomination and loses to Mr. Bush, Hillary Clinton will be the odds-on favorite for the nomination in 2008.

If Mr. Dean is nominated, he could choose Mr. Gore to replace Clinton apparatchik Terry McAuliffe as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a post that would give Mr. Gore a platform from which to lay the groundwork for a campaign against Hillary, a campaign in which he, presumably, could have the grateful support of activists supporting Mr. Dean this time.

If Mr. Dean is routed, Mr. Gore’s near victory in 2000 will look awfully good by comparison. Mr. Gore might enjoy reminding people that he got more votes, and a higher percentage of the vote, than Bill Clinton ever did.

And if Mr. Dean should win, Mr. Gore could be secretary of state, a handsome booby prize.

Mr. Gore isn’t as smart as he imagines himself to be, but he’s no dummy. He’s no doubt noticed that real power in the Democratic Party has shifted to left-liberal special interest groups like MoveOn.Org, which can accept the big buck donations from fat cats like George Soros that the McCain-Feingold law forbids the Democratic Party from taking.

These organizations are flush with cash, while the Democratic National Committee scratches for bucks to finance its national convention in Boston, and South Carolina Democrats wonder how they can pay for what could be a pivotal primary. With organizations like these behind him, Mr. Gore could counter the prodigious fund-raising abilities of the Clintons.

Though journalists are loath to attribute anything but cynical motives to politicians, Mr. Gore’s endorsement of Mr. Dean may also have been fueled by principle. Mr. Gore has been — or at least has appeared to be — a centrist Democrat for most of his career. But the real Al Gore may well be the Radical Al of “Earth in the Balance.” He may have been a Deanie-beanie all along.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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