One person who stood up and noticed Al Gore's diatribe in San Francisco against the Bush Administration's position on Iraq was Sen. John Kerry. This, as it becomes clearer that if Gore runs for the 2004 nomination, he is going to leave the middle to the likes of Sens. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, while he stakes out the left.
"If you look at the political lay of the land, who do the old line Democrats have? Dick Gephardt? [Vermont Gov.] Howie Dean?" says a Washington-based Gore adviser. "The only real threat, in Gore's view, is Kerry. Otherwise, he could own that left wing of the party."
For some time, Kerry seems to have understood the threat Gore represents to any presidential aspirations he might have. Kerry was quick after the Gore staff disbanded last year to recruit Gore fundraisers and support staff, such as web designers and the like, for his campaign.
"Kerry probably thought, at least among the Senators who might enter the race, that he could take up the standard for the liberals of the party," says a Kerry supporter in Boston. "He certainly has the track record to do that, despite what Ted Kennedy might say."
Kennedy, by the way, is in some very public ways backing Edwards, creating a deepening rift in the Massachusetts Senate delegation. Regardless of what that says about Edwards's stated moderate leanings, Kerry was in a good position to run as the traditional Democrat in 2004. Now it appears Gore is going to steal his thunder.
Gore's speech in San Francisco was radically different from the one on Iraq he made earlier this year in New York. In the Big Apple, Gore had called for dealing with Iraq on "our terms," seemingly calling for the U.S., if not to undertake unilateral action, to take the lead. In San Francisco he mocked the Bush Administration's plans, including its efforts to use diplomacy and U.N. sanctions to defeat Saddam.
"Things have changed since his last speech on this subject," says the Gore adviser. "And politically, things have changed for Gore. This speech was less about Iraq, and more about Gore and his political future. If he thought a speech about school vouchers would help him, that's the speech he would have made."
Gore had watched Lieberman, Edwards, Gephardt, Tom Daschle, and even to some degree Kerry come out in the past two weeks in support of the Bush initiative on Iraq. Seeing that opportunity, Gore decided to make his about face on Iraq and to remake himself into a dove of sorts for Democratic Party consumption.
"Kerry has to be paying more attention to Gore now," says the Boston backer. "It's obvious that Gore is trying to push Kerry out of the race before it gets started."
Despite the fact that Gore and his people had put out advance word of the San Francisco speech, Gore was disappointed by the media turnout at the Fairmont Hotel ballroom. "We expected a lot more TV and newspaper people, " says a Gore staffer. "But we got better play on the nightly news and on the morning shows the day after than we thought we would."
Gore was due to travel through New Mexico on behalf of the state party there for "Get Out the Vote" rallies, but wasn't expected to appear with New Mexico gubernatorial hopeful and former Clinton Cabinet member Bill Richardson. While there was no word on why the two weren't scheduled to appear together in public, recent polls show Richardson's once wide lead in the polls shrinking quickly. "It isn't clear Gore would help him one bit there," says a Democratic National Committee fundraiser.