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Al Gore Speaks After Canceling Election Plans

Aired December 16, 2002 - 14:55   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the CNN special report on Al Gore's bombshell announcement that he will not run for president in 2004. We're just moments away from a news conference that the former vice president will hold. He is in Raleigh, North Carolina, today, it's a stop that was already scheduled as part of his and his wife Tipper's book tour. As he answers reporters' questions, we hope we're going to learn a little more about why he decided against another run for the White House. The former vice president who won the popular vote for president in 2000 made his announcement last night in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes."

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I personally have the energy and the drive and the ambition to make another campaign. But I don't think it's the right thing for me to do. I think that a campaign that would be a rematch between myself and President Bush would inevitably involve a focus on the past that would in some measure distract from the focus on the future that I think all campaigns have to be about.


WOODRUFF: And with us now from Raleigh, North Carolina, is Jeanne Meserve, our correspondent there. We're all going to be joined by Bill Schneider, standing by to talk a little bit about this big political announcement.

Jeanne, you're there. You've got reporters gathered from North Carolina and other places?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, from around the nation. And the press conference is due to get under way in just a few minutes time. We are told Mr. Gore will make an opening statement, then he will take some questions. But we're told this should only last for 10 or 15 minutes. Mrs. Gore, we are told, will be here, but she is not expected to speak.

We are, of course, hoping to learn more about what was behind this decision not to run in 2004, what impact he thinks it's going to have on the race, and what he might do from here. As you know, Mr. Gore said last night in the interview with "60 Minutes" that although he had the ambition and the energy and the drive to run again, that others were exhausted by the 2000 race, and he feared that any rematch in 2004 would dwell on the past rather than the future.

We're told after he made those remarks he did get a flurry of phone calls from supporters all around the country expressing their regret that he had made the decision not to run. We're told Mr. Gore thanked them all for their support. We're told that he is very relaxed and comfortable with his decision. And if you're wondering why Raleigh, as you mentioned, there's a book stop scheduled here. The quest for the presidency may have ended but the quest to sell books apparently has not.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jeanne. And we'll come back in just a minute.

Bill Schneider, I think what surprised people more than anything -- a lot of people were expecting, a number of people at least, were expecting that Gore might not run -- was the timing of it. He had said he was going to make a decision, talk to his family over the holidays, and let everyone know early next year. This came practically out of the blue. People very close to the former vice president had no idea that he was going to do this yesterday.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: There's some resentment among Democrats that I have heard that this steps on the Trent Lott controversy, which was doing the Republicans a great deal of harm, and Democrats are a bit resentful: Why did he choose to do this now, because it's interfering with what was very negative coverage of the victorious Senate majority Republicans. Well, he said he wanted to do it as soon as he made the decision. And I think it really was a personal decision.

WOODRUFF: Bill, this clearly opens the way for what is already a fairly big field of Democrats. It opens the way for other Democrats who might be thinking about running. Let's talk about who some of those are, as we wait for Al Gore to talk to the press in Raleigh, North Carolina. First of all, Joe Lieberman, his running mate in 2000. Lieberman has been saying he would only run if Gore decided not to. Now, there's nothing to stop him.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. He says he probably will run. He said earlier today that he's going to consider the issue, the decision, over the next few weeks, make up his mind in January. He, of course, is a well-known figure. And at the moment, if Gore is not a candidate, a poll taken by "The Washington Post" and ABC News last month shows that Lieberman is by a small margin the front runner, mostly because he has the name recognition, having been on the national ticket before.

A lot of liberals are a little mistrustful of Joe Lieberman, they say his views are too centrist, or even conservative on international affairs and on social issues, so I think if he were to run, it would not be an easy thing for him, because he would have to sell himself to a lot of liberals in the Democratic constituencies.

WOODRUFF: Now, Bill, there are two Democrats who have already said they are forming or formed the so-called exploratory committee. These are committees they set up raising money while they make a final decision. But I don't think there's a doubt in anybody's mind that John Kerry's going to go for it, the Senator from Massachusetts. SCHNEIDER: John Kerry is likely to go for it. He's the front- runner in the New Hampshire primary, which he must win because he's from neighboring Massachusetts. He has one credential in particular that stands out, and that is on national security. That's been his interest ever since he came to the Senate. He is a decorated Vietnam War veteran. And was also an anti-war activist after he left the service, so he has his credentials in the service and he's talked a lot about foreign policy issues in his period in the Senate. He did not vote for the first Iraq War, so far the only one, the Persian Gulf War, in 1991, but he did vote to authorize the use of force by President Bush this time.

WOODRUFF: And, Bill, the other name out there who's formed an exploratory committee is the only governor so far in the mix, and that is Vermont's governor, Howard Dean.

SCHNEIDER: Howard Dean is becoming the champion of the liberals. I'm not sure that's what he wants to be. But a lot of liberals like him. He's standing very strongly for a program that will provide universal health care. He's a physician. That's also unusual. Not unusual for a governor, except the Democrats don't have very many governors around any more. And he's the only one who appears to be interested in running this time. But universal health care is his issue. He intends to run on that. And as health-care costs escalate very rapidly, that issue is likely to get bigger and bigger. He'd like to ride that issue to the nomination.

WOODRUFF: There are several other names we could tick off, Dick Gephardt, John Edwards, Tom Daschle, Al Sharpton and others. But before we go on to those, I want to bring in our White House correspondent, John King.

John, this White House was thinking there was at least a pretty good chance there'd be a rematch between George W. Bush and Al Gore this time. What do they do now?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, now they wait, Judy, they simply wait. Ari Fleischer making a joke today, or maybe he wouldn't consider it a joke, that the Democrats will certainly nominate somebody who will want to raise taxes on the American people. And he said the White House was agnostic as to who that could, should, or might be. The White House clearly now will wait.

But you were right, behind the scenes, they thought that Al Gore, because he carried the popular vote, because he has complained in recent days that he believes he was robbed of the presidency, they believed he would simply find it irresistible and that he would run again, especially given the fact that the people here at the White House disagree with the Democratic argument, but they certainly agree that politically you can make a case now about the economy, the issue Al Gore has talked about of late.

So they are frankly surprised, especially that he made this decision so early to get out of the way. They assumed that he would just find it too irresistible and that he would run again. Now, they say, they will sit back, wait and watch how all of this unfolds.

Now, Judy, quickly, I was making some phone calls last week into Iowa, to keep track of Dick Gephardt, who's been meeting with people and actively planning to run for president. Do not be surprised if he even moves up his schedule a little bit. He had been planning an announcement in January, but several people I talked to Iowa from past campaigns said that Howard Dean's making a pretty good impression out there, and they want to listen to him.

WOODRUFF: John, this -- Gore's decision not to run really does introduce a large element of uncertainty, to put it mildly, because they don't know who they're running against. This has to throw back the White House in its game plan for '04, at least to some extent?

KING: Well, yet another reminder that this administration, at least early on, at this point, two years out from re-election, there are many parallels being drawn to the last administration. And of course, that is the primary process on which there were several Democrats running for president, a half dozen or so, most national figures at the time. The people believed to be the heavyweights, the Lloyd Bentsens, the Mario Cuomos and others, stayed out of the running. Everyone thought that was because the former President Bush was viewed as invincible. He was at 91 percent at the polls at some point, fresh from the victory in the Persian Gulf War. The economy became the issue the Democrats seized on.

The economy is the issue the Democrats will seize on. Who will be the nominee? Who knows at this early juncture? Here at the White House, they expect, though, a pretty feisty debate about the economy. Here at White House, they would say President Bush can beat any of these men. One thing they say they like here at the White House is the concentration of Northeast liberals, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman. They believe a man from Texas, that plays pretty well for a Republican candidate, whose roots are in Texas in a national election, but they also say it is December, 2002, and any analysis they make today could be meaningless when we get into the heart of all this in 2004.

WOODRUFF: So, John, just quickly, any notion that there's somebody who they think would be the more formidable of all these names? He's not out there -- John Edwards obviously is not from the Northeast?

KING: Early on, several months back, John Edwards was someone they were looking at quite closely. Frankly, I think Democrats would agree with the assessment of the political team here at this White House, that John Edwards has not been -- not distinguished himself as well as many thought he might have. Even John Edwards has pulled back some in his public appearances while his advisers are working on whether he should run. That is a name, obviously, because of the southern roots, and here at the White House, much as the Democrats are saying, they say there could be a surprise. There could be others who get into the race and at least affect the race, perhaps not take off and become the nominee, who we're not even thinking of right now, because of Al Gore's decision to get out, that will encourage other Democrats to take a hard look at it. WOODRUFF: You're right, this list is heavily weighted with Democrats from the Northeast. All right. John King is at the White House. As we mentioned, Bill Schneider is with us from Boston. Jeanne Meserve is in Raleigh, North Carolina, waiting for that news conference to start any moment now with former vice president Al Gore talking more about his decision not to run for president two years from now.

We'll take you there live when it gets under way. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back. Wait a minute. There he is. We're not going to take a break. Here's Al Gore.


GORE: Well, I thought I would make a brief statement and then take a few questions. Tipper and I are here in Raleigh for a book signing, and we're looking forward to that.

As you all know, I made a statement on "60 Minutes" last night about the fact that I'm not going to be a candidate in 2004 and gave my reasons for the decision. Thought maybe it'd be helpful for me to repeat that and then respond to a few questions.

This past week, I was in New York City all week long rehearsing for "Saturday Night Live," and I was surrounded by my family as they began to gather to come in for the show, and I found myself during the week in between rehearsals beginning to engage in the conversations that I had anticipated having over the Christmas holidays. And as the week wore on, I began to feel that I was getting nearer to closure with my decision on whether to be a candidate or not, and so I determined that I might as well go ahead and make the decision sooner rather than later, at least in the middle of December instead of the 1st of January.

But I didn't make the decision really until Friday morning. And then at midday on Friday I called Lesley Stahl with CBS and told her what my decision was going to be. I had contacted her earlier in the week and said that I was pretty certain to make a decision one way or the other, sooner rather than later, and then called her back and said that's what it was going to be. And that's how the "60 Minutes" show came about.

I tried my best, and successfully, to avoid talking to any of you all in the press between Friday morning and Sunday night, and I had a pretty good excuse because I was concentrating so totally on getting ready for that show Saturday night, which Tipper and I had a lot of fun with.

In any case, my reasons, as I said last evening, didn't come down to any single factor, but because I have run for president twice before and because a race this time around would have focused on a Bush-Gore rematch, I felt that the focus of that race would inevitably have been more on the past than it should have been when all races ought to be focused on the future.

And in conversations around the country, it is completely understandable, but nevertheless a fact, that the conversations, first and foremost, tend toward the 2000 race, the Supreme Court decision, the idea of a rematch and all the rest.

And I think that, for the values that I believe so strongly in and for the best interests of our country and for the political party that I'm a member of, which, in my opinion, when it's at its best it does serve as the best vehicle for those values, I thought for all those reasons it was the right thing for me to decide not to be a candidate this time.

And I made the decision, again, as I said last evening, in the full awareness that that probably means that I will never again have an opportunity to run for president. And I'm at peace with that decision.

I've had the great privilege to serve my country for 24 years in elective office.

I am extremely grateful for that privilege.

I was reminded when we were talking earlier about something my father said when he was defeated for his re-election to the United States Senate in 1970. It was a bitter race and that was a tough one. And when it was over with he was trying to decide the very next day whether or not he was going to continue a career in politics or maybe do something entirely different.

And he and I went out, just the two of us, on the Kennyfork River(ph) in a canoe, and as he was going over his options in his mind he asked me for my advice.

He said, "You know, you serve 32 years in the Senate and the House and then this happens, what do you do?" And my advice to him was, "Well, I'd take the 32 years, Dad."

And in a sense my decision over the last couple of days was a decision to take the 24 years. And I mean it when I say that my heart is full with a feeling of deep gratitude for the chance that I've had to serve my country.

I don't know what the future holds. I'm exploring a lot of different possibilities, a lot of -- now, first of all, I know some of what the future holds, which is a comfort.

I am already involved in business activities with MetWest Financial in Los Angeles, California, and I'm enjoying that. It's a great company and I've enjoyed my association with them. I will probably, indeed almost certainly, continue teaching in Tennessee.

What else I'll do I don't know. I've been contacted by a number of people about this option and that option, and all of it sounds interesting, none of it is firm. Some of the discussions that I've had may or may not pan out. And, who knows?

But it's exciting at the age of 54 to have the opportunity to consider a lot of new things in life. So, I am looking forward to that.

As for whether or not I will endorse one of the other Democratic candidates, I haven't made that decision yet. I have not told any of the candidates for the nomination that I will endorse him.

I have not ruled anyone in, or ruled anyone out.

I'll probably endorse someone. Don't know for sure, but I probably will.

And I have communicated directly with Senator Edwards and Senator Lieberman and Senator Kerry, and each of them has asked for my support, and I'm very grateful for that.

And, you know, bear in mind it's not just my support. I'm very influential with my wife and children. And take it from me, a half a dozen votes could make all the difference in a presidential race.


In any case, I'm excited about the future.

Of course, this has been probably the most difficult decision that I've ever made. You can probably guess a lot of the reasons for that -- personal, political and all the rest.

But I am completely at peace with the decision. I believe it's the right thing for the country. I believe it's the right thing for the political party that I'm a member of and what I hope that political party will stand for. And I think it's the right thing for me and my family.

I'm grateful to my family for being so supportive throughout this. And they were right there ready to go full blast if I had decided the other way and announced a candidacy again. But they're also 100 percent supportive of this decision.

So, with that let me open it up to some of your questions.

QUESTION: With the announcement that you're not going to be a candidate in 2004 for the presidential campaign, are you also ruling out the possibility of maybe seeking any other kind of office in the future?

GORE: Probably yes. You know, I hadn't thought about that at all.

I'll say the same thing to that one as I said in response to a question last evening about, you know, some future race for the White House. I'm old enough now to believe in the old cliche, "Never say never," but it is not something that is in my mind at all.

Now, if you dig deeply enough, I might as well tell you, you're going to discover sooner or later this is actually a very clever strategy to lay the groundwork for a presidential race in 2016.


QUESTION: Did the decision of Donna Brazile not to join your campaign have anything to do with your decision?

GORE: No. And I'm not sure about -- you got to know how to talk with Donna, and I'm not sure that was her -- I don't think she made that decision. As a matter of fact, we've communicated today. I tried to call here yesterday and she got back to me today and said that if I had decided to run she would have been there with me and for me.

In any case, the answer to your question is, no, that was not a factor. She's a very talented person, and whoever she does work for this time will be well served.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about how you came to this decision, but was there one particular moment, one conversation, one experience where things, sort of, jelled with you and you realized, "I shouldn't do it"?

GORE: No, it really wasn't that kind of process. There wasn't a single epiphany. It was more a balance of all the different factors and a slow dawning on me that this was the right decision for all kinds of reasons, including the ones I mentioned.

QUESTION: What did you advise Senator Edwards? What factors should he consider as he mulls a presidential bid? (OFF-MIKE)

GORE: Well, I think all the candidates that are out there are very talented individuals. I think that it's really early to make any kind of accurate assessment of what their strengths and weaknesses, respectively, will turn out to be.

The campaign is a testing process. And it'll be a really interesting one. This is going to be an exciting race. And whoever emerges from this competition will be a strong candidate.

And again, as I said last evening, I truly believe that the Democratic nominee, whoever that turns out to be, is going to have an excellent chance of defeating President Bush.

You know, anybody who says they can predict what's going to happen two years from now is not being realistic. And we've all seen situations as recently as 1991 and '92 that illustrate that very clearly.

But my hunch is that the country's focus on the economy will intensify between now and November of 2004. I further believe that, unfortunately, the Bush administration's economic policies have very little chance of lifting our country out of the economic problems that we're in.

And I have encouraged President Bush to change those policies. I encouraged him to fire his economic team. And I wish I could take credit for him finally doing it. But I think it's a good thing for the country that he made a change there. But ultimately meaningless unless he takes a second bit of advice and changes the policies. Unless he does, I think the economic issue will give the Democratic candidate an excellent chance to win.

Now, we're here in Senator Edwards' home state. So I don't want to dodge the main thrust of your question. I take it you work for North Carolina, Al (ph). He's a great guy. And I'll say the same about the other candidates.

But I did talk to John this morning. And he and his wife Elizabeth are good friends to us. And I think he's acquitted himself extremely well in the United States Senate. And time will tell for him and for Senator Kerry and for Senator Lieberman, both of whom are also good friends. And I'm going to watch the competition with at least as much curiosity and excitement as you all will.

QUESTION: You said several times that if you were the nominee in 2004 the campaign would inevitably be seen as a rematch instead of focusing on the future.

Did you mean to suggest by that that you concluded that in the end another candidate, a fresh face, was likely to be a stronger candidate for the party than you would be?

GORE: Well, see, I believe enough in my own talents to think that I could fight through that and overcome that. But it may be so that the need to respond to questions from average voters about, you know, the 2000 race and about 1992 and about, you know, the 24 years, or at least the 16 years that I've been a candidate at the national level, would divert time and energy and that all-important focus from what I think needs to be the central choice facing the voters in 2004. And that is, where are we going from here?

I don't think it would have been an exclusive focus, don't get me wrong, but I think it would have, to some measure, taken part of the focus away from that choice about the future to a rehashing of the past.

And so, you know, a candidate who would not have to go through that -- I still think I would be able to fight through that somehow, some way, but realistically it might be so.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, I just had a -- we were all, kind of, surprised with your announcement, I think, will all the press coverage that you were doing a month or so ago...

GORE: Yes.

QUESTION: ... that we would assume you were gearing up for the campaign. Just trying to think of reasons why this may be happening, I was curious if there was a lot of internal pressure within the Democratic Party for you not to run because of your loss in 2000, and how pivotal of a role did that play in your decision ultimately not to run.

GORE: It was not a critical role, however, as I said last evening, it is undeniably the case that there are folks in parts of the Democratic Party who felt exhausted by the whole 2000 process, not to mention the 36 days that came after Election Day.

And while I personally have the desire, the ambition, the drive, the energy level to go out there and do my best to win a campaign -- to make another campaign and to win, there are folks that might otherwise be gungho who are exhausted by the idea of going through what they went through in 2000. And so I'm sensitive to that.

QUESTION: You didn't mention the incumbent Senate and House leaders. Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Daschle are both reported considering. Have you reached out to one or both?

GORE: I should have included Mr. Gephardt -- Dick Gephardt in that list, and maybe Tom Daschle also. I read in the press coverage that Dick is, sort of, moving toward a decision to run, but I don't know that. And I guess Tom Daschle may or may not be. You all know more than I do.

The three I mentioned seem to be the three that are most definitively in the race. And I said last night I think that there will be others who get into the race. And I don't know if Daschle and Gephardt will or not.

They're both fine men, they've both demonstrated leadership capabilities, they've both got a lot of experience. And I think there will be others besides them, whether they get in or not.


GORE: I have not talked with either of them, no.

QUESTION: Are you planning to place a call to one or both?

GORE: Well, the other three that I mentioned called me.

QUESTION: So neither one called you today.

GORE: Right.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Daschle have not called you today asking for your support.

GORE: No. Not that they, you know -- no. I'll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, how would you like your political epitaph to read?

GORE: Well, I'm not ready to write my political epitaph. Thank you very much for the question, though.

Because I intend to be -- I intend to remain active politically, even though I will not be a candidate. I intend to follow through on my plan to give a series of speeches after the first of the year. I may not have an audience for them, but I've worked on a bunch of ideas on the issues that I've signaled I would be speaking about. A lot of good people have helped me think through those issues. And I will offer those ideas, not in an effort to stay on the public stage, but in hopes that the ideas might be of interest to somebody. Maybe some staff members of some of the other candidates will read them anyway.

In any case, whether by speaking out, or by giving advice, or by writing, or by going on some of these talking head shows or shouting head shows, I hope to be able to continue playing a political role.

And so hold off on getting the chisel and granite out. But thanks, anyway.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, just simply what was your level of doubt that you could, in fact, beat President Bush in 2004?

GORE: Well, again, nobody can predict with any certainty whatsoever what the political lay of the land is going to be two years from now.

I felt that I could do it. I felt good about that. But I'm also sensitive to the fact that my feelings are not the only ones involved here and that, in my opinion, it is a complete unknown how the race is going to come out, but my guess is that whoever the nominee is will have a good shot. And I think that if I had run I would have had a good shot.

But, you know, without repeating what I said before, I have to recognize the fact that a rematch would have taken part of the focus back to a rehash of what all has gone before. And I'm not sure that's good for the political ideas and values that I think are so important to push forward in this country, which I hope will be embodied in the Democratic nominee and platform, and hopefully will make their way into the White House.

QUESTION: Going forward into the next election, what do you think will be the strong issues given what has happened recently -- politically?

GORE: I think that the economy will be the principle issue. But, of course, keeping our nation safe from the threat of terrorism will also be a crucial issue. I think that over time if, as I hope we will be, we are successful in countering the threat of terrorism, I think that the economic issue will be front and center.


GORE: I think you all are better at figuring that out than I am. I seriously believe it's too early and there are too many different factors involved. I don't know. I really don't know.

I think the candidate or potential candidate whose prospects in 2004 are most hurt by my announcement is me.


GORE: My favorite part of "Saturday Night Live"? The kiss.

(LAUGHTER) And I want you all to know that was real. That wasn't fake.


QUESTION: Mr. Gore, what, in your mind, happened to Democrats this past Election Day?

GORE: You know, I've studiously avoided what many of us have referred to as Monday morning quarterbacking on that.

Well, I guess I have said one thing, and I'll repeat it for you. I think that the decision by the Bush-Cheney White House, for whatever reason, to begin the beat of the war drums against Iraq right after Labor Day served to shift the focus away from the economy and all domestic issues and toward what seemed at that point to be an imminent war -- an imminent U.S. unilateral invasion of Iraq.

And of course, Andy Card, the chief staff in the White House explained the timing by saying, "You don't roll out a new product line until after Labor Day." And I'll just let his words hang there and speak for themselves. I don't pretend to be able to see inside their hearts on that.

Karl Rove's political presentation, which he inadvertently misplaced, said that their strategy for the candidates on the Republican side was to focus on the wars as the number one political strategy. That doesn't prove anything about what their motivations were.

But whatever happened, that decision certainly played a huge role in knocking all of the candidates off stride when they tried to focus on the economy. And then, of course, right after the election, they fired the economic team and so forth.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) President Clinton last week for...

GORE: Have not. I did not talk with either one of them. They're both friends. I did not talk with either one of them before the decision, no.


GORE: Well, it was more a process of coming to closure.

I've gone through this decision-making process before and, you know, it's hard to reduce it to some kind of scientific formula; just not that way. And there are all kinds of different factors: personal, political, concern for what's in the best interest of the country, that being paramount. And weighing all those factors, many of them of different magnitudes and different parts of your life, you know, there's no exact formula. It just, kind of, settles in.

But I felt, after being in those conversations with my family, that I was getting ready to come to closure.

But, no, I didn't mean to imply by that that they were nudging me one way or another. They were not. But they're awful good sounding boards.

And I wish I could tell you that right in the middle of the rehearsal of one of those comedy skits it just hit me like that, but that's not the way it happened. It was just a slow dawning of what I felt was the right thing to do.

Thank you all very much, and I'd like you all to come to the book signing and buy some books. Thank you all very much.


WOODRUFF: Al Gore, the former vice president, talking to reporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, saying, my heart is full of gratitude to this country, deep gratitude for the ability I had to serve my country. But making it very clear that this was a decision he reached just last Friday. He held off on announcing until he did an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday night.

Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, is with me now. Bill, Al Gore said a couple of times in that news conference, this is a decision I've made, I am at peace with it. And he said, I'm at peace with the idea that it may mean that I'll never run for president, I'll never be president.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. He said he's willing to accept that, the opportunity may not present itself again. Though he said he doesn't rule out any possibility of running for president in the future. He said he will abide by the old cliche, "never say never," but he said running in the future and running for any other office is not in my mind at all.

So what he's suggesting is, if there should be an opportunity in the future where it looks like a moment when he could get his message through, when people would welcome him, he might reconsider that. Timing is everything in politics. And clearly, the message he wants to present is, this was not an election, where the timing was right to go back to the issues of the '90s and say -- run a campaign on saying, you know, we should go back to the Clinton era, we should go back to the way things were. He didn't think that message was going to work this time.

WOODRUFF: Yeah, he made it very clear he was concerned that, if he had run again, the focus would have very much been on a rehash of what happened in 2004 rather than on the future. It may be the only time somebody decided not to run for president, as he put it, in between rehearsals for "Saturday Night live," which he appeared on Saturday night in some funny skits.

John King, our senior White House correspondent is with us. John, as Al Gore makes this farewell press conference, if you will, farewell to the idea of running, he took some shots at the Bush economic policy and at their strategy leading up to the midterms, saying once again that he wondered if the motivations behind the administration focusing so much on a war on Iraq and wondering if it didn't -- if it wasn't intentionally meant to take the focus off the economy. KING: He is hardly the only Democrat to make that complaint, Judy, suggesting the president focused so much on the war, a potential war in Iraq, and so much at homeland security, because those were the president's strengths, the strengths of the Republican Party. The vice president hardly alone in saying he believes that was a leading dynamic in the midterm elections and the historic Republican gains in them. And, of course, the vice president is not alone in saying he thinks Democrats should learn that lesson and nominate someone who can stand tall on the issues of war and peace and home security, but also the vice president believes the Democrats need to focus on the economy.

In essence, the vice president, who was the vice presidential nominee in 1992, is saying Democrats should run the campaign that he and Bill Clinton ran in 1992 on the economy against the former President Bush. So, as he steps out, he's urging the candidates, perhaps they can learn a lesson from what happened back in 1992.

WOODRUFF: All right. John King at the White House, Bill Schneider with us from Boston. Just one other thing on what Al Gore had to say. He did say he wants to remain active politically. He said he still intends to make a couple of speeches in January to lay his ideas out there. He said, I don't know how many will be in the audience, but I still plan to remain active.

That's our coverage for now of the former vice president's news conference clarifying some of the reasons why he's not going to run for president. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. And now I'm going to turn it over to my colleague Arthel Neville with TALKBACK LIVE in Atlanta -- Arthel.


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