Washington Prowler

Sour Grapefruits

Al Gore leaves a bitter taste in Florida. Also: Tom Daschle has no taste for leadership.

By 9.19.02

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AL SHOW NO-SHOWS
Al Gore's road trip to sunny Florida didn't turn out the way perhaps he hoped. While his audiences were generally polite and supportive, leaders of the state Democratic Party were pointedly less so. Some in fact boycotted the events Gore was attending.

"How can a guy who ran for president and other offices be such a lousy people person?" wondered one Palm Beach County Democratic operative. "This is a guy who never came back to us after that debacle a couple of years ago, never thanked us for the hundreds of hours we devoted to saving his sorry ass, never called, never wrote. Then he shows up in 2002 like it all never happened. He's useless." (But what does he really think?)

Never mind Gore's lousy personal touch. Perhaps his political timing is even worse. Here he was expecting to be the center of attention, showing the kind of leadership a national candidate would exhibit after an important primary, but instead finding himself shunned by state party hacks who would do anything to avoid reminders of the 2000 debacle. Several high-ranking state and local operatives skipped the Gore events, telling reporters they wanted to focus on more positive party news. Like gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride.

"McBride is the real deal," the Palm Beach Democrat says. "We're much more excited about him than living in the past and worrying over real and perceived slights and injustices. Gore would do well to take that advice. If he did we wouldn't have to worry about him in 2004."

DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe is so excited about McBride he's expected to trot out a Florida Democratic Party poll claiming McBride is within five points of Gov. Jeb Bush Don't believe it. Every responsible poll, even from the Bush-hating Miami Herald, has the guv ahead by double digits.

BRILLIANT TOM
Using a speech that was vetted by everyone from the aforementioned McAuliffe to staffers in Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt's office, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle took to the floor of the chamber yesterday and unleashed a 40-minute diatribe against the Bush economic plan.

"He looked like an advertising executive with all those charts and things," says wise-acre Republican Senator who watched the show. "Wish we had props like that. Hope the taxpayer didn't have to pay out a lot for them."

But there was very little, if any, substance to Daschle's address. Instead he stayed on the DNC message the party has been touting for weeks. The Senate majority leader charged that Bush was doing little to spur the economy, had failed to address concerns about unemployment and the retirement fund losses Americans had suffered of late. He complained about the shrinking budget surpluses.

"Regardless of what it is we do with Iraq and the war on terrorism, I'd hope this administration can dedicate some of its time each week to economic security," Daschle said. "It takes leadership not only with regard to international and foreign policy, but to help here at home on economic policy as well. We haven't seen it to date."

Daschle wasn't about to show any leadership either. According to a policy adviser in the DNC, party leaders have stressed to their candidates and their various talking head minions not to push ideas leading into the 2002 elections. "No plans for Social Security reform, no plans for appropriations or spending, no plans on Wall Street reform. Details can damage a campaign. The less we say about what we would do the better," says the policy adviser. "That's why you heard a half-hour speech without a single constructive point. It was brilliant."

"It's not like anyone is asking us, 'What would you do differently?'" says a Democratic leadership staffer. "All the press seems to care about now is what do Democrats think of Bush and his plans, actions. We're more than willing to address those points. I don't think Daschle has been asked to lay out any Democratic alternatives in more than three months."

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