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Al Gore Bows Out of Presidential Race '04

Aired December 15, 2002 - 18:02   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: But first we begin with a political bombshell. Former Vice President Al Gore says he is out of the race for the White House in 2004 and that leaves the Democrats with no clear front runner in the race. CNN's John King is at the White House with more on Gore's sudden decision -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, this decision guarantees there will be no rematch of the hotly contested 2000 presidential election, decided of course in the Supreme Court after Al Gore actually won the popular vote in the national election but lost in the Electoral College when the Supreme Court gave Florida to the now President George W. Bush. No rematch and an open field now for the Democrats.

A senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore tells CNN that this evening on the CBS program "60 Minutes," the former Vice President will say that he has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination for president in the year 2004. Mr. Gore in that interview says that he has decided staying out is best for him and his family at this time.

We're awaiting more details, of course, as we try to track down Gore and his top advisers this a very closely held decision. We are told by a senior adviser Gore made it in the past several days and decided to announce it now at the end, of course, of a week, a couple of weeks in which we have seen a Gore media blitz, including an appearance on the NBC program "Saturday Night Live" last evening.

A handful of Democrats are actively preparing to run for president now. The governor of Vermont, Howard Dean is already in the race; Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts already raising money; Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri planning to make his intentions known over the next several weeks. Aides say he is running.

And, the person most affected by this decision is Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. He, of course, was Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 campaign. He said he would not run for president, would not seek the Democratic nomination if Al Gore ran again. We are told the former vice president planned to speak to Senator Lieberman at some point today to let him know of his decision. One aide to Lieberman says the Senator is likely to take a deep breath, let all this settle in before making his plans known.

But, Carol, Al Gore despite all the criticism from Democrats, all the pleading from Democrats that maybe he should not run again because they did not think he ran such a good campaign last time was the overwhelming favorite if he did decide to run. He leaves a wide open field now for the Democrats -- Carol.

LIN: John, any idea what the turning point was for Al Gore, any clue at all?

KING: No clue at all because he is an intensely private man. For all the criticism over the years that he has been too eager to follow the pollsters or follow political strategists, when it comes to decisions like this, Al Gore speaks to his wife, Tipper, his two daughters and his son, his brother-in-law Frank Unger (ph) is known to be a close adviser, but he is not someone who lets others in on these decisions.

It's a very personal decision. He said he would take his time to make this decision again. We will hear from him later tonight but it is a major decision with huge ramifications for the Democratic Party, a decision Al Gore kept to himself and his family until he decided to go public tonight.

LIN: All right, thank you very much John King. John King live at the White House. Right now we want to bring in Peter Fenn. He's a Democratic strategist. He's joining us by telephone, and Peter I just want to make mention to our audience that Al Gore, we're expecting to hear from him shortly. He is going to have some sort of a news conference, I think, out at his Arlington house. So we will hear from Al Gore himself, but I'm wondering, what are your thoughts on his decision here?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think it was a hard decision for him. I think there's no question but that there is now no front runner for this nomination. He clearly was it. I think, you know, here's someone who's been active in politics his whole life. I think that over this past several weeks the appearances on a lot of television and getting his views out and making a lot of speeches. You know it's like a horse who's at the starting gate and can't wait to go.

But I think there are a lot of personal considerations for he and Tipper and I think those were overwhelming plus, you know, maybe he got a great offer from "Saturday Night Live" to have a permanent...

LIN: He was funny.

FENN: He was very funny. It was a great show.

LIN: You know only if he was like that on the campaign trail.

FENN: That's what a lot of people say.

LIN: It might have been a different outcome.

FENN: That's right.

LIN: But what do you think went into his line of thinking? I mean it was obviously a very personal decision. How does this man think and what are his priorities right now that he wouldn't want to pursue a lifelong dream? FENN: Well, you know, I think that clearly he wants to be involved in issues and clearly he wants to speak out and he wants the freedom, I think, to speak out without having any sort of political constraints around him. You know one of the things that people criticized him about was he was a little too stiff and he weighed his decisions too much in terms of the politics.

And I think he took that to heart and he said look I'm going to speak out on global warming. I'm going to speak out on the environment. I'm going to speak out on this economic mess that we're now in and I don't necessarily have to run for president of the United States to do it.

LIN: Do you think...

FENN: Go ahead.

LIN: Peter, do you think this is good for the Democratic Party in the long run?

FENN: Well, you know, I don't know. We're going to have to wait and see. I think there's no question though that he felt that George Bush could easily have been defeated in 2004. I mean these poll numbers are fairly ephemeral and I think that it wasn't a question of whether or not he could win or not that went into this.

I think he was fairly well convinced that should he have gotten the nomination that he could have defeated Bush in 2004, but I just think, you know, some folks think look my time was 2000 and now it's somebody else's turn, and I think obviously Senator Lieberman, as John mentioned, will be in this race and in fact this may encourage more people to get into the race rather than to narrow the field.

LIN: All right, thank you very much Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist joining us by telephone. Let's bring in our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider for his thoughts on this. Bill, were you surprised?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, a lot of us were surprised, although there had been stories, one of them in "The New York Times" last week saying that he might not run but certainly he had given every indication. He said he was going to have a speech on economic policy, criticizing President Bush's tax cut.

He was going to have something to say about health care. He had already made it known that he'd changed his views on health care and endorsed now a single payer system so to speak where the government essentially takes the responsibility of insuring all Americans. Someone who gives those kinds of indications usually is intending to run for president. I think he was keeping his options open so that if he did decide to run, he'd be ready to start immediately.

LIN: So, do you think, do you agree with Peter Fenn that maybe Al Gore got a better offer, maybe not from "Saturday Night Live" but what does he really want to do then if not run for president? SCHNEIDER: I think he may still want to be president. We'll hear if he has a press conference on "60 Minutes" shortly tonight. We'll hear if he has other plans. Does he rule out entirely ever running for president or does he just rule it out for 2004? That's very interesting because, you know, Richard Nixon didn't run for president -- he lost in 1960, did not run in 1964, but he came back, ran and won in 1968.

So, what will be very interesting is to hear exactly how Al Gore states his position. Is he getting out of politics? Is he leaving the door open to some future run and saying that who knows what the future may bring? That's going to be the most important question.

LIN: Well, let's look at some of the clues. I mean we have a quote here of what Al Gore said in making his decision when he would finally announce it. He said it's not just about me. It's about how I can best serve my country, whether I would be the best candidate for Democrats to put forward against Bush. Does that mean that he made a decision saying I'm not the best candidate? There's a better guy out there. Maybe it's Joe Lieberman. Maybe it's John Kerry.

SCHNEIDER: Well, (AUDIO GAP) that he thinks the Democrats may want to have a fresh face. You know one of the problems the Democrats have is this so-called Clinton legacy. It's been both a burden and a blessing for Democrats. Clinton had a great economic record, which a lot of Americans remember the '90s as a period of a boom, but some of them say it was not a boom, it was a bubble. So that while people remember fondly how good things were in the '90s, Clinton's personal image was clearly a burden to Al Gore in the 2000 campaign.

I think in some way he was saying we have to move beyond the Clinton era. We have to try a fresh face, see if the Democrats can take on a new message, a new face, a new direction, and it may be the time to do that in 2004. I think that may have been part of what he was saying.

LIN: So, do you think he made up his own mind that he still wasn't enough of his own man in the public's mind, even though he was still the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, even though he's still pretty popular nationwide, that he still needs to establish his own identity?

SCHNEIDER: That's absolutely true. You hit it right on the button because the fact is every vice president has that problem. Every vice president is by definition someone else's man or someone else's person because they were picked by someone else. The quality that makes for a successful vice president is loyalty. The quality of loyalty usually gets you your party's nomination. It worked for Nixon in '60, Humphrey in '68, Mondale in '84, Bush in 1988.

It probably would work for -- it worked for Al Gore in 2000, might work again if he had run in 2004. But loyalty is not something that people want in a president and all of them with the important exception of George Bush in 1988, all of them lost in the general election because when they're running for president Americans do not look for a candidate who's loyal. They look for someone who's independent, who's his own man. If Gore does have future plans, he may need a period of recovery the way Nixon had, say eight years or more to establish his own identity independent of being Bill Clinton's man.

LIN: Bill Schneider stay right there. I want to bring Mark Mellman in to this conversation. He's a Democratic strategist and he's joining us by telephone. Mark, I'm not sure if you were able to hear Bill but I'm wondering if you agree with this point of view that Al Gore needs more time in order to establish himself as his own man with his own identity, escaping the shadow of Bill Clinton.

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, honestly I think Al Gore is a well known quantity at this point in time. He obviously said as part of his statement that he wanted to give the Democratic Party the best chance to win in '04. A lot of Democrats rightly or wrongly, and I think frankly most of them wrongly, have been suggesting that Al Gore couldn't win in '04 if he couldn't win in 2000, and I think he probably doesn't want to give them the satisfaction of finding out whether that's the case or not.

If he waits until '08, as Bill said, which was something Richard Nixon did, lost in 1960, sat our '64, came back in '68 and won. Al Gore will still be a young man in 2008, a reasonably young man, could be a very capable president then if the stars line up correctly.

So, I think he probably looked at this situation and said a lot of Democrats are worried about the kind of campaign he would run. A lot of Democrats have been saying they're not sure they want to run under his banner and so he's stepping aside even though I think some of those analysts aren't quite looking at it fairly.

LIN: But who has the notoriety of the name recognition that Al Gore has for the Democratic Party?

MELLMAN: Well, nobody and that makes this race wide open. Joe Lieberman has indicated, for example, that he would not run if Gore did run but probably would throw his hat in the ring. I would assume that's going to happen now. We have a lot of other candidates, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, potentially Tom Daschle, others who are not household words or household names but those candidates are really now going to have the opportunity to slug it out on their own. They won't be competing with Al Gore for just to be number two. They'll be competing with each other so there will be an opportunity for the country to get to know a number of Democratic leaders.

LIN: But, Bill Schneider, doesn't this make the Democratic Party appear pretty fractured and, you know, disparate going into a race that's only two years away?

SCHNEIDER: Well, not necessarily. You know it gives an opportunity for someone to emerge, possibly from the shadow, to establish his or her leadership for the party and to become a sensation.

Look, Michael Dukakis did that, got the nomination at least in 1988, didn't go all the way. Bill Clinton did that in 1992, emerged from obscurity and eventually, after a big struggle, he won the nomination. It's often an opportunity when there's no front runner for someone new, a new face to emerge, someone that we're not even thinking about right now.

LIN: So, Mark Mellman, you're a Democratic strategist, what do these candidates need to do to break from the pack in such a short amount of time?

MELLMAN: Well, honestly they have a fair amount of time yet to get known, over a year until the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, so they have some time. But the truth is if Al Gore had been in this race, each and every one of those candidates would have been measured against Al Gore, how are they similar to or different from Al Gore.

Now each of them has the opportunity to put out their own message, introduce people to them as their own individuals, and I think each of these candidates we have are exciting people with great ideas for the country and they're going to have an opportunity to introduce themselves to the country and that's what this process is really going to be all about but they'll have a relatively free field to do that. They won't have Al Gore in the way.

LIN: And that's what makes politics so exciting. Some of the names being bandied about right now Senator John Kerry, Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Tom Daschle, and Senator John Edwards, we shall see what happens. Thank you very much Mark Mellman for joining us on the telephone. Bill Schneider please stick around. You and I have Trent Lott to talk about in just a few minutes.

In the meantime, we're going to have much more on this story of Al Gore not running in 2004 tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.


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