- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Al Gore, the Democratic Party’s presidential standard-bearer in 2000, has been all but invisible recently in the campaign of presidential hopeful Howard Dean, the man he endorsed for the 2004 nomination.

That includes in the former vice president’s state of Tennessee, where Mr. Gore still teaches and owns a home. Until last night, he had not made a single campaign appearance for Mr. Dean there.

But yesterday Mr. Gore delivered a harsh attack on Mr. Bush at a state Democratic Party dinner in Nashville, saying the president “betrayed this country … he took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure.”

In his 20-minute speech to a packed ballroom at a downtown hotel, Mr. Gore spoke highly of Mr. Dean, but spent more time blasting the Bush administration, saying the White House planned the Iraq invasion even before the September 11 attacks.

“This is not a minor matter,” Mr. Gore said, “to take the deep patriotic feelings of Americans and trifle with them.”

Mr. Gore has made several stinging attacks on Mr. Bush in the last six months, but had been mostly silent since endorsing Mr. Dean on Dec. 9. Has been mostly invisible on the campaign trail, aside from a few campaign appearances for the former Vermont governor.

Yesterday, in addition to blasting the president, Mr. Gore noted that he endorsed Mr. Dean and also said Mr. Dean’s grass-roots and Internet fund-raising is “the hope of the future.”

Asked last week about his limited involvement in Mr. Dean’s campaign, Mr. Gore’s spokeswoman, Kiki McLean, referred calls to Mr. Dean’s campaign office in Burlington, Vt.

Sarah Leonard, a spokeswoman for Mr. Dean’s campaign, said Mr. Gore campaigned twice in Iowa, including the day he endorsed Mr. Dean in December; a week ago in Michigan, where he attended church services on Mr. Dean’s behalf; and yesterday.

“The vice president has a very tough schedule. He has a very busy travel schedule. We really appreciate the help he has been able to give us,” she said. “Whenever we ask, he works hard to make time in his schedule to campaign on our behalf.”

Mr. Dean has not campaigned in Tennessee, leaving that race to Wesley Clark, a retired Army general; Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina; and front-runner Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Mr. Dean has said he thinks that Mr. Gore’s endorsement on Dec. 9, when Mr. Dean was hitting his peak in the opinion polls, marked the beginning of his national campaign collapse.

“I actually do think the endorsement of Al Gore began the decline, not for the reason that you said, because the establishment in Washington really realized that I might be the nominee, and they did not like that,” Mr. Dean said last Tuesday on CNN.

“The media folks didn’t like it, the other folks in the race didn’t like it, and they did everything they could to make sure we weren’t” the nominee, he said.

Mr. Gore was the first major party leader to back Mr. Dean.

“In a field of great candidates, one candidate clearly now stands out, and so I’m asking all of you to join in this grass-roots movement to elect Howard Dean president of the United States,” Mr. Gore said in his original endorsement.

Yesterday, Mr. Gore sounded much more open to the field of candidates.

“No matter who you are supporting on Tuesday, any one of them is better than George W. Bush,” he said.

Mr. Gore accused the Bush administration of leaving the country vulnerable to the September 11 attacks and claimed the administration operates under a veil of secrecy.

“In the last three years, the truth has taken a beating from this administration,” Mr. Gore said. “In my view it more closely resembles the Nixon-Agnew administration than any previous administration.”

• Stephen Dinan in Washington contributed to this article.

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