The announcement that Al Gore on Tuesday will endorse former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean so early in the process shows how systematically the Dean camp is approaching this primary season. It also shows how relations within the establishment wing of the Democratic Party have eroded.
“Gore wouldn’t even talk to Gephardt and Kerry at any length,” says a former Gore adviser. “And that is saying something since Kerry has a lot of Gore people on his payroll.”
To be fair, neither Dick Gephardt nor John Kerry nor even Joe Lieberman was heatedly pursuing Gore’s backing. “There was nothing in any of our polling that indicated that a Gore endorsement would have helped us in Iowa,” says a Gephardt campaign aide there. A Kerry staffer in New Hampshire voiced similar sentiment related to that state.
Gore’s decision to side with Dean so early in the process is the result of several weeks of conversations and discussions in the Gore camp. The former Democratic presidential candidate was contacted by leaders of the SEIU and AFSCME labor unions, Andrew Stern and Gerald McEntee respectively, in an attempt to sway the former party leader to come on board. Both labor unions, which have endorsed Dean, had been strong supporters of Gore, by way of his boss, Bill Clinton in 2000. Gore early on was noncommittal.
Gore also heard from organizers of the shadowy, left-wing organization, MoveOn.org, which is partially funded by billionaire George Soros. MoveOn.org has been virtually the only group willing to host Gore’s political speeches in the past few months. Those speeches in New York and Washington were sponsored by the organization and filled with the online group’s supporters. MoveOn.org, which is already running newspaper ads attacking President Bush, has become increasingly vocal in its support if not of Dean, then of his campaign themes.
“When you look at his record, Gore isn’t much of a political creature in the sense of campaigning and strategizing, His 2000 campaign proves that point,” says a former Gore staffer working for another candidate in this race. “He tends to follow. This endorsement isn’t about leading, it’s about being told by people he respects, ‘Dean is the guy, get on board now or you’ll miss out.’”
Dean and Gore will be in New York on Tuesday for the announcement. Dean was already there for a set of Monday night fundraisers expected to net him more than $2 million, a single-day record for Democratic fundraising by an individual candidate. Gore was not planning on attending any of those events. Instead, Dean will appear with Gore in Harlem, of all places, for the announcement.
As of 6 p.m. Monday night, there were no plans to have Gore’s old boss around the big media play, though knowing Bill Clinton, one shouldn’t sell him short.
Gore is also expected to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire for Dean in the coming days. “He’s not going to endorse the guy and then just disappear,” says the former Gore adviser. “This is an opportunity for him to be in the spotlight and to help determine the future of the party. He knows Gephardt and Kerry and Lieberman, and he clearly believes Dean is the better man this time around.”
It also allows Gore to settle some political scores. According to the former adviser, Gore resented Lieberman for the way his former running mate tried to build up sentiment within the Democratic Party for him not to run again in 2004, thus clearing the way for Lieberman. Gore felt Gephardt could have been more supportive in 2000 during the campaign, and he wasn’t pleased Kerry poached some of the people Gore might have used in a campaign had he run.
“Gore is certainly doing this more to affect the people who aren’t getting his support than for the guy who is getting it,” says the Gore adviser. “The fact that he is looking like more of a team player than Clinton doesn’t hurt either.”
Clinton may differ. He was in San Francisco on Monday, doing his own kingmaking of sorts in the mayoral race out there that features a liberal Democrat against Green Party member. Both are members of the Board of Supervisors. The Democrat, Gavin Newsom, an ally of outgoing Mayor Willie Brown, has Clinton’s support. The Green Party member, Matt Gonzalez, has the bulk of support from his fellow board members.
Clinton was sent out there on the Democratic Party’s dime, to blunt the momentum of the Green Party’s Gonzalez. The Greenie surprised many political observers out there with a strong finish last month that forced this runoff, and polls have been showing him gaining on the once-unbeatable Newsom. Part of his gains may be the result of the SEIU, which while not endorsing either candidate, has been working against Newsom’s campaign.
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