Al Gore In '04? Not Likely

27 October 2000

By Stentor Danielson

As I write this, nobody can say for sure whether Al Gore will win the 2000 presidential campaign. But I can predict that, regardless of the final count in Florida this year, Gore will not claim the presidency in 2004.

The idea of a 2004 run by Gore has been raised by Republicans hoping to end this recount silliness and put Bush in the White House, as well as by Democrats hoping to cut their losses and do it right next time around. But it is looking more and more like this year is Gore's only shot at claiming the presidency that he has been training for since age 7 or so.

History is on Gore's side, say pundits looking at a 2004 Gore run. Winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College, the few times it has happened, seems to be a good recipe for victory the second time around. John Quincey Adams, after squeaking out a victory over Andrew Jackson, was thoroughly beaten in their rematch four years later. Grover Cleveland grabbed a second non-consecutive term after being narrowly kicked out of the White House by Benjamin Harrison.

Another popular example is Richard Nixon, who conceded a close and possibly fraudulent election in 1960 only to return and win two turns in the White House.

But history has failed us many times already in this election cycle. History said a near-incumbent in a time of prosperity (record prosperity this time around) should be unbeatable. But it will require fancy legal footwork to create a Gore victory.

History said Gore was a debater of unparalleled might, and he seemed to have Bush scared in the planning for the debates this year. Then he screwed up the first two debates magnificently and didn't get it right until most Americans had tuned in to the baseball playoffs rather than watch him embarrass himself again. History also tells us that, in this age of telecommunications, we should know who the president-elect is by the morning after Election Day.

Chances are, the 2000 election will go to Bush. Even Gore supporters are getting tired of the endless litigation that seems to be a prerequisite for a Gore victory, and claims of searching for the true will of the people are being painted as rationalization for a partisan win-at-all-costs strategy.

Seeing this, there is hope in some quarters that a gracious exit will set Gore up for a clean 2004 run. But first impressions are the lasting ones, and Gore has made a big first impression as a sore loser. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't already battling characterization as an unprincipled, poll-driven, say-anything-to-get-elected kind of candidate.

The two weeks of stalemate that Democratic calls for scrutiny of the Florida vote have given us make it hard to see how Gore will ever live down his infamous retraction of his concession to Bush. In 2004, the Bush campaign would make sure we all got "snippy" with the former Vice President.

It's quite possible that the Democratic Party wouldn't even allow Gore a second run. For the past month, liberal commentators have been wracking their brains, trying to figure out how Gore could possibly have turned what (they thought) should be a blowout into a neck-and-neck race and a winnerless election. The final verdict may be his personality (at once both stiff and constantly changing), his inept campaigning or his swing to the populist left, which was hailed as a victory when he gave his speech at the Democratic National Convention but allowed Bush to paint him as a tax-and-spend liberal. Gore will be hard pressed to convince anyone that these things will be different if he could get a second chance.

Gore may claim the top of the ticket again through lack of viable contenders. His only real challenger this year, former Senator Bill Bradley, saw the heart go out of his campaign so quickly after his New Hampshire loss that a 2004 run seems unlikely.

Hillary Clinton's name has been tossed around a lot ever since she became New York's newest Senator. But I don't know how much confidence the party would have in a woman who had to fight a bitter battle against a relatively unknown opponent in a heavily Democratic state. Then again, at least Hillary has been a resident of the nation for some time before she began plotting to govern it.

Based on his warm reception when named as Gore's number two, I would suggest putting Joe Lieberman atop the 2004 ticket, provided his next 3 years in the Senate can smooth over the claim that he flip-flopped his positions on issues in order to better match Gore's.

If Gore manages to acquire the presidency in 2000, prospects for a Gore 2004 victory are even slimmer. Either candidate would be crippled by lack of a clear mandate from the people, and Gore more so, as his victory would stink of legal maneuvering to those inclined to support him.

A Congress split nearly evenly would also be a formidable obstacle to either man. But it would give Gore more trouble, as congressional Republicans would undoubtedly be very bitter at being foiled once again in their quest to discredit Bill Clinton and stain his legacy. For every Republican resigned to working with the administration he or she is presented with, there would be another willing to thwart Gore's agenda simply out of spite.

All this means that Gore will have a very poor record of accomplishment to his credit in a reelection campaign. Bush's refrain that "they had their chance. They did not lead" will be repeated, with even more justification, by the Republican 2004 candidate.

And that challenger may very well be the darling of the 2000 primaries, Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.). McCain's demonstrated appeal to voters across the political spectrum may be more appealing the second time around, cutting into Gore's base of support. And his message of fiscal responsibility would play very well if, as I expect, the government (regardless of who is president) fritters away the budget surplus on here-and-now spending and tax cuts rather than preparing for the coming financial crunch.

About the only thing the Gore in '04 campaign has going for it is the Nader factor. With 90,000 votes in the Sunshine State, Nader will undoubtedly shoulder (probably undeserved) blame for a Bush victory or near-victory. This will drive liberals back to the Democratic Party.

Whether he wins or loses this election, prospects for a 2004 run by Gore do not look good. The 2000 campaign and post-election mayhem have made Gore's 2004 bed, and he's going to have to go back to Tennessee to lie in it.

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