December 16, 2002
Gore won't challenge Bush
Democrat says he won't campaign for president in '04
By GEORGE E. CONDON JR. and FINLAY LEWIS
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Al Gore, who won the
popular vote in 2000 but lost the election, will not attempt a
rematch against President Bush in 2004.
"I don't think it is the right thing for me to be a candidate in
2004," said Gore, making his announcement in a brief
appearance yesterday on "60 Minutes" on CBS.
The surprise decision by Gore, who had been the clear
front-runner among Democrats, shakes up the battle for the
nomination and all but guarantees that Bush will be opposed in
the general election by a candidate who will start out
little-known in most of the country.
Gore's announcement came two years and two days after his
Dec. 13, 2000, concession to Bush ended the most tumultuous
presidential election of the 20th century, which concluded in a
bitter and protracted recount in Florida and a controversial 5-4
Supreme Court decision that ended the vice president's bid for
the White House.
Gore won the popular vote, besting Bush by more than 500,000
votes nationally and leading many Democrats to contend he
deserved a second shot at Bush. Other Democrats remained
bitter at mistakes they believed cost Gore the election and were
particularly angry that he lost his home state of Tennessee when
its electoral votes would have made him president.
On "60 Minutes," Gore said the hangover from that 2000 race
was a major factor in his decision to step aside in 2004.
"I think that a campaign that would be a rematch between myself
and President Bush would inevitably involve a focus on the past
that would in some measure distract from the focus on the future
that I think all campaigns have to be about," he said.
Always a politician driven by dreams of the White House, Gore,
54, first ran for the office in 1988. And he left little doubt last
night that he still yearns for the presidency.
"I personally have the energy and the drive and the ambition to
make another campaign," he said.
He refused to rule out a run in either 2008 or 2012.
"Never say never," he said. "But I make this decision in the full
knowledge and awareness that if I don't run this time – which I'm
not going to run in 2004 – that is probably the last opportunity I
will ever have to run for president."
Gore had been expected to enter the 2004 contest early next
year, and a bruising battle had been anticipated. After all but
disappearing from public view in 2001, he had been very visible
in recent weeks, promoting two books he co-authored with his
wife, Tipper, and granting many interviews. He even hosted
NBC's "Saturday Night Live" last week.
"The scramble is going to be even more intense now with him
out," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's
Center for Politics. "It's a new race."
It also forces the president's political strategists to revise their
2004 game plan. Republicans had ardently hoped for another
contest against Gore, whom they saw as the most vulnerable
Among Democrats, the biggest impact is expected on two
leading officeholders now considered more likely to enter the
contest – Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Senate
Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Lieberman, who
was Gore's running mate in 2000, had pledged not to run if Gore
was a candidate.
The new front-runner – though that term means little this early
in a campaign – is Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
"We all owe Al enormous gratitude for years of dedicated and
exemplary public service and for his significant contributions to
our party and country," Kerry said.
Lieberman is expected to say more of his plans today.
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean praised Gore for showing "real
courage" in making his decision. In New Hampshire campaigning
for his long shot bid, he called it "bittersweet," adding, "There is a
certain amount of sadness for me because he worked hard in the
2000 election and was poorly served by the process."
Other Democrats considering the race are Rep. Richard
Gephardt of Missouri and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Sabato said Gore's departure forces all the other candidates to
alter their strategies, because they all hoped to establish
themselves by "knocking off the giant."
A senior adviser to one of the likely Democratic candidates
described Gore as the "800-pound gorilla" in the field and
conceded that the former vice president had been the favorite to
win the nomination.
Samuel Popkin, an adviser to Gore during the 2000 campaign
and now a political scientist at the University of California San
Diego, said that Gore's decision would likely benefit Kerry and,
possibly, Lieberman, by leaving them as the candidates with the
best credentials to attack Bush's handling of the war on terrorism
and to question his approach to Iraq.
Another beneficiary could be Edwards, Popkin added, because
he is now the only contender from the South, a region that has
produced the last three successful Democratic presidential
It was unclear why Gore made the decision to stay on the
sidelines this time. Most analysts believed it was more political
calculation than any lessened desire to be president.
In his interview with Lesley Stahl, Gore said he had surprised
"I have faced the decision on running for president twice before
and both times I have decided to jump in," he said. "And there
was a big part of me that sort of assumed that that's what I would
do this time around."
As Popkin noted, though, Gore had also considered running in
1992 but had decided then not to take on a popular incumbent
"Gore is not a risk-taker," Popkin observed.
Gore also acknowledged that he has heard the criticism from
within the party and the voices warning against going for a
rematch of 2000.
"I think there are a lot of people within the Democratic Party
who felt exhausted by that, who felt like, 'OK, I don't want to go
through that again.' And I'm frankly sensitive to that," he said.
Gore said the decision was made after consultation with his
"My family all gathered here in New York City over the last few
days and I have come to closure over this," he said.
He pledged to remain active in politics and promised to work for
the party's 2004 nominee while also exploring "a lot of other
For the past year, Gore has been working as a college professor
and as vice chairman of Metropolitan West Financial of Los
Angeles, a financial services holding company.
Among the first to react to Gore's announcement was former
President Clinton, who surprised many by picking the fellow
Southerner for his ticket in 1992.
"Al Gore was the best vice president America ever had. He would
have been a fine president had history taken a different course
two years ago," Clinton said.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer said the decision guarantees a real
battle for the nomination.
"I think it opens the field," she said, adding, "Everybody has a
chance and that's an exciting time for us as Democrats."