Posted 4:45pm December 15
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
At an early morning fundraiser in Harlem on Tuesday morning, former Vice President Al Gore gave his support to Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean.
Gore told the crowd, “when I announced last year that I was not going to be a candidate for president myself that I would endorse one of the candidates who is running. And I had no idea at that time which candidate that would be. But I have watched this campaign and I have listened to all of the candidates. I think … that Howard Dean really is the only candidate who has been able to inspire, at the grassroots level all over this country, the kind of passion and enthusiasm for democracy and change and transformation of America that we need in this country.”
The show of support for the Dean campaign is crucial to the candidate whose popularity is strong among the public but is less substantive among the Democratic Party establishment. As a key player in the party, Gore’s support will give Dean that must needed boost he has been searching for among his fellow politicians. The endorsement also comes the day of a debate which pitted the Democratic hopefuls against each other yet again.
Gore’s words were strong and forceful as he urged voters to rally the cause of the Dean campaign. “Democracy is a team sport, and I want to do everything I can to convince anybody that is interested in my judgment about who among these candidates has the best chance to win and the best chance to lead our country in the right direction — I want do everything I can to convince you to get behind Howard Dean and let’s make this a successful campaign as a group. It is about all of us. And all of us need to get behind the strongest candidate.”
Gore’s endorsement was surprising to some but not so much to others. Gore’s former running mate in 2000 Senator Joseph Lieberman, who also seeks the Democratic ticket, declined to comment on his former running mate’s “loyalty” on the “Today Show” early Tuesday morning. Lieberman had courtesy to wait for Gore to announce that he would not campaign, giving up on the early start that Dean and Edwards had in not waiting.
According to sources inside the Lieberman camp, news reports state that Gore did not call Lieberman to tell him the news personally nor to discuss his own political aspirations. This is not as surprising as some would think. Since Lieberman’s strong and open support for attacking Iraq, a clear divide has been built between the Senator and Gore, since Gore was open in his opposition to the war.
The importance of this issue was raised in the end of Gore’s endorsement speech. “So whether it is inspiring enthusiasm at the grassroots and promising to remake the Democratic Party as a force for justice and progress and good in America, whether it is a domestic agenda that gets our nation back on track, or whether it is protecting us against terrorists and strengthening our nation in the world, I have come to the conclusion that in a field of great candidates, one candidate clearly now stands out.”
Gore and Dean were set to travel to Iowa to make the formal endorsement announcement later Tuesday afternoon. This political move was made to ensure the Iowa labor activist vote, which swayed between Dick Gephardt and Dean, would be firmly planted in the Dean camp. Gephardt expressed to the press his confusion regarding the Gore decision. Gephardt referred how he fought alongside Gore under Clinton for the economic plan, for banning assault weapons and for affirmative action, all of which, Gephardt noted, Dean had been in opposition to.
But the Gore endorsement may in fact have important political overtones for Al Gore himself. The sheer fact that Gore’s endorsement seems to carry so much weight answers the question of whether or not he had strayed too far from the political mainstream. It also brings into question his future political aspirations. If Dean runs and looses, Gore can pick up the ticket in 2008 and with it, the support of those who voted Dean in 2004. Either way the former Vice President’s words are important to lending both credibility and legitimacy to the Dean campaign.