GIVE ME MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
Al Gore probably would prefer that his Memphis get-together of Democratic donors and heavy-hitters last weekend hadn't been called a "retreat." But a retreat it was: from everything the failed Democratic presidential candidate did and said or was forced to say and do in 2000. Without naming anyone by name, he openly retreated from every one of his campaign consultants, including such close advisers as daughter Karenna Gore Schiff, who many in the campaign fault for her father's failings (recall her recommendation that Dad wear brown and project himself as an "alpha male") and his good friend Peter Knight (which took some doing, as Knight was often seated or standing next to Gore during the Peabody Hotel event). And Gore put distance between himself and the Democratic National Committee, which he blamed for controlling the party in such a way that he could not get what he needed out of state and local Democrats.
But for all of Gore's exuberance at running away from the nightmare of 2000, it didn't translate for the audience (who, because the press was kept from meeting rooms, has emerged as the main source of news about the event). "I thought it was awful," says a Washington lawyer who attended the retreat. "The energy was low, people weren't into it. The audience gave him the proper applause at the right lines, for example, when he admitted mistakes were made, and when he said he'd be his own man. But you have to remember: this all had a similar tone to statements he made to us in the summer of 2000, when his campaign was flagging. We've heard this all before."
According to another Washington-area retreater, Gore was asked some tough questions but made only the mildest attempt to address them. "He was hard on himself verbally, and he took it from the audience. But when they asked him questions, like about why he changed his strategies in the debates, he just blamed the consultants and himself and then moved on. You never got the sense he was really taking it all to heart. The weekend was just an exercise to exorcise the ghost of 2000. I wasn't impressed. I'm going to have a sit-down with Edwards this fall and make a decision."
A Washington lobbyist who has worked on two Gore presidential bids likewise said that based on what he saw and heard, he's considering himself a free-agent for 2004. "Maybe Lieberman, maybe Edwards, maybe Kerry. I don't know, but there's time now. After Memphis, I know who I most likely won't be working for."
That said, the naysayers all admitted that coming out of the weekend, it appeared that Gore had shored up at least initial financial support within the core group of big-money types he needs to keep an edge in fundraising. "When everything is said and done," said the D.C. lobbyist, "the people Gore most had to impress were the money people. If he wins the nomination, I'll have to fall back and support him. If the money people walked away with their wallets closed, that would have been something he could not overcome."
KNOWING ALL ALONG
Two weeks ago The American Prowler's offices received several phone calls from two aides to Rep. J.C. Watts. They were angry about a Prowler report that a frustrated Watts was threatening the leave the House, both because his own growing dissatisfaction with his leadership role, and because of criticism he was receiving from Republican colleagues tired of his perceived belly-aching and pouting. One of the callers was particularly upset by a quote from a longtime Watts adviser who said of Watts, "I don't think he knows what he wants." The Watts aides claimed not a word in the Prowler item was true and pressed for a retraction and correction.
Good thing we were still mulling that one over when word came Monday morning that Watts is retiring when his term ends this year.