Once again last week Al Gore stepped back into the news in a big way. Once again pundits speculated that it might signal an impending presidential candidacy. And once again, nothing came of it.
Mr. Gore, now a Nobel laureate, remains on the political sidelines just months before the first votes of the primary season will be cast. There are some in his party pushing a “Draft Gore” movement—just like there was a “Draft Cuomo” movement in 1992—but it’s clear now that he will not be a candidate in 2008.
Since the 2008 cycle began, he has left the door open for a possible candidacy, ready to pounce if the right moment materialized. But such a moment has eluded him—thanks in no small part to Barack Obama.
In the summer of 2006, Mr. Gore seemed on a crash course with political redemption in the year 2008. An Inconvenient Truth had just debuted, recasting him as fearless environmental crusader and burying the memory of his visionless 2000 campaign. From the moment he conceded to George W. Bush in December 2000, it was assumed that Mr. Gore, the winner of the popular vote, would seek a second chance somewhere down the road. By the summer of 2006, he’d found the moral justification to do it—and an army of supporters to follow him.
The timing would be perfect in 2008, the thinking went, because grass-roots Democrats would be frantically searching for an inspired alternative to Hillary Clinton and her potent but soulless machinery. Other candidates would emerge, but only Mr. Gore would have the celebrity, the money and the moral authority to compete on the same rarefied turf as Mrs. Clinton.
And there was no rush, either. Mrs. Clinton would not be able to launch her campaign until after the 2006 elections, when she’d win her second Senate term in New York, and it wasn’t like any other big-name Democrats were on the horizon. Mr. Gore could continue to rack up glowing headlines for his nonpolitical activity and then, some time in 2007, he could feign reluctance and give in to demands from the grass roots that he jump in and challenge Mrs. Clinton. Instantly, it would be a horse race.
Then along came Barack. Mr. Obama, a state legislator in Illinois until 2005, was never supposed to be a player in the 2008 sweepstakes, except perhaps as a prominent endorser of one of the contenders. That all changed around this time last year, when a few trips to early primary and caucus states revealed the abiding passion that Mr. Obama’s personal story and political style—along with his 2004 convention speech in Boston—had stirred among the Democratic grass roots.
Those same grass-roots Democrats who egged Mr. Obama into the race—many of them adamantly antiwar, anti-Washington and thirsting for a fresh and fearless leader—represented Mr. Gore’s natural constituency. With Mr. Obama’s surprise emergence, there was suddenly no gaping void for Mr. Gore to fill. With another celebrity Democrat in the race, Mr. Gore would be denied the one-on-one showdown with Mrs. Clinton that he needed.
But that development alone didn’t kill the Gore scenario. After all, months after Mr. Obama jumped into the race, Mr. Gore was still teasing Democrats with his cute “I have no intention to run” nondenials about 2008. (Contrast that with his blunt statement in 2002 that he would not be a candidate in 2004—a one-time announcement that completely killed media speculation about his plans.) And he continued to burnish his reputation, snaring an Oscar in March and promoting his Live Earth concerts. The new idea, it seemed, was that Mr. Gore would be available if and when Democrats gave up on Mr. Obama.
That hasn’t quite worked out, either. Mr. Obama, more so lately, has disappointed many of his early enthusiasts, falling flat in debates and at times offering rhetoric and ideas just as sterile and cautious as those that emanate from Mrs. Clinton. There are perilous signs for his campaign in the polls, and no one would now consider him Mrs. Clinton’s co-front-runner.
But he nonetheless retains a formidable following, scoring over 20 percent in national polls and vying for the lead in Iowa. On top of that, he has raised obscene money, surpassing Mrs. Clinton in two of the three reporting periods so far this year. With that political and financial base, it’s unthinkable that he’d leave the race early, whatever the shifting conventional wisdom says about his chances. It’s also unthinkable that Mr. Gore could push him aside even if he tried.
With Mr. Obama in the race for good, the biggest beneficiary of a Gore candidacy now would be Mrs. Clinton. And it’s hard to imagine that Mr. Gore will have traveled the long, redemptive path back from the wreckage of 2000 only to become a spoiler.