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Frank Sesno: Democrats turn recriminations into challenge

Frank Sesno
Frank Sesno  

CNN Washington Bureau Chief Frank Sesno checks the pulse of the nation’s capital following Vice President Al Gore’s concession speech.

Q: What are we hearing on the recrimination front from the Gore campaign and Democrats?

SESNO: Democrats are turning their recriminations into a challenge. Their challenge is to the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill and President-elect George W. Bush.

The challenge to Bush is to step up to the plate and tackle such issues as campaign finance reform and reform of U.S. election practices. Bush and Republicans would prefer to start out with less controversial issues, such as education and prescription-drug benefits.

So, the bitterness becomes a gauntlet and a challenge to govern in a bipartisan fashion and to tackle issues that Democrats favor.

I will tell you that while most political leaders are publicly talking about cooperation and reaching across the aisle, Democrats privately remain very angry with the U.S. Supreme Court and resentful at the way Bush and the Republicans played the legal system and, in the Democrats’ view, played out the clock.

Q: Are we hearing any griping about the way the Gore campaign was conducted?

SESNO: The political planning for 2002 and 2004 and the political sweepstakes have begun. One of Washington’s more interesting parlor games going on is the Al Gore sweepstakes: Will Al Gore be a viable candidate in 2004?

Many Democrats say privately that Al Gore ran a dreadful campaign and that despite his reasonable showing in the end – that he won the popular vote – they believe he squandered an opportunity.

In the words of one Democratic strategist, she said, ‘Gore should be in the Michael Dukakis Hall of Fame for the campaign he ran.’

There are a lot of Democrats who say that the legal battles and electoral showdown put judgment of Al Gore in a deep-freeze for 35 days, and that strong sentiments and judgments about the caliber of his campaign were put to the side.

If Al Gore chooses to run in 2004, there will be a lot of Democrats who remember 2000 and feel that he did not adequately craft a message or exploit the incumbency.

Q: But Gore did bow out with arguably the most gracious and eloquent speech of his life. What are Democrats saying about his concession speech?

SESNO: Gore won points among Democrats for what they viewed as his principled fight during the legal challenge and for what they viewed as his steady demeanor and his gracious concession.

Some say they saw a more human and gracious Al Gore during the 35 days after the election than they did in the entire campaign preceding the election.

Nonetheless, there’s ample bitterness and recrimination about the kind of campaign he ran.

One Democratic strategist told me flatly, ‘Gore ran a terrible campaign.’


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Thursday, December 14, 2000

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