Political Junkie: Even with Nobel, Gore Isn't Running

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Talk about former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and the Nobel Peace Prize on NPR's blogs:

Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, talks about what Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize does — and doesn't — mean for the Democratic Party. Also, he weighs in on Wednesday night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, and the latest news from Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

Guests:

Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor; writes the "Political Junkie" column and has a weekly podcast called "It's All Politics"

Doug Hattaway, spokesperson for Gore's campaign in 2000; president of Hattaway Communications

Get Over It: Gore's Not Running

'Draft Gore 2008' button

If Al Gore were running, wouldn't I tell you? hide caption

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The only time in history when the same two people squared off in a Senate race and, later, for the presidency. hide caption

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Add him to the short list of House Republicans who voted against the Iraq war in 2002. hide caption

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'Gene Taylor for U.S. Congress' button

Eighteen years ago today, Taylor, a Mississippi Democrat, captures an open GOP House seat in a special election. hide caption

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We are two-plus months away from Iowa and New Hampshire. Eight Democrats, for better or worse, have spent the better part of a year seeking their party's presidential nomination, raising millions of dollars, meeting thousands of voters and appearing in hundreds (well, it just seems that way) of debates. Democratic voters, by and large, appear happy with their choices, certainly in comparison to their Republican counterparts.

And yet, throughout all this, there has been a steady drumbeat of calls for Al Gore to get into the race.

To some, the outcome of the 2000 presidential contest remains an open wound that simply will not heal unless and until Gore heeds the call of those still mourning the Supreme Court decision that resulted in George W. Bush's presidency. That yearning resurfaced after the 2004 election, another Democratic defeat pulled from the jaws of victory; it increased after Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, won him an Oscar; and it continued up to and beyond his winning the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday morning. A full-page ad appeared in The New York Times only last week calling on Democrats to draft him. Petition drives have been launched around the country, noticeably in Michigan, California and Massachusetts. To his admirers, he was right from the start about Iraq and global warming, a victim of GOP chicanery that made him the first candidate since Grover Cleveland in 1888 to win the popular vote but fail to become president.

Still, I'm not sure why anyone thinks this will lead to a dramatic, late bid for the White House. From the beginning, Gore has said that he has no plans to run and, while (who knows?) he might entertain fantasies that a Democratic electorate will come to its senses and bestow upon him the nomination, that's not how it's done anymore. And here's another consideration. It would be one thing if the fight for the nomination were up in the air, or if the voters were crying out for someone new. There is some debate on the first point, not much on the second. Besides, a Gore candidacy would be an explicit statement that he had no confidence in the eight Democrats already in the race, including Hillary Clinton, the wife of the guy who invited him onto the successful 1992 ticket in the first place.

Al Gore is not going to run.

And why should he? The guy who was ridiculed by the Republicans as the "Ozone Man" (George H.W. Bush in '92) and "Captain Ozone" (John McCain in '96), and who, let's face it, elicited disdainful groans from many Democrats during his 2000 presidential bid, has gotten the last laugh. The fellow he lost to that year and the war he opposed two years later are extremely unpopular. Gore's speaking fees have gone through the roof and his net worth is estimated to be more than $100 million. Basking in this spotlight, he may be better off staying above the fray than in the ring where he becomes just one of the pack. Just ask President Fred Thompson.

Still, that hasn't extinguished the hope some still have. A lot of e-mails have come in over the past several months, best summed up by Mae Arant of Chapel Hill, N.C.: "The only one who can win, who already won once, and who must run now is Al Gore. Not to win the prize of power, but for public sacrifice and dedication to regain our footing as a truly democratic nation, one that can lead us into peace and reason."

Not happening. Sorry. To quote Al Gore during the 2000 debates, "Sigh." But just in case I'm wrong, check out:

www.americaforgore.org

www.draftgore.com

www.AlGore.org

And with that, I take your questions.

Q: Do you think it is possible that Hillary, Obama and Edwards could "deadlock" — for example, each winning a third of the primaries? Could Gore then step in as late as April 2008, or would he have to start campaigning a lot sooner? Is there a historical precedent for this turn of events? — Robert Wolfson, Fairfax, Calif. (Similarly, Dan Dozier of Washington, D.C; Andy Zaborski of Seattle; and Randy Craig of Pegram, Tenn.)

A: It's possible, and it's the dream of every political junkie, but it just doesn't happen like that anymore. In the old days — before primaries decided the nominee — a candidate could get in the race late, take his chances and sometimes even succeed. Adlai Stevenson walked into the Democratic convention in 1952 as a non-candidate and walked out as the nominee. Lyndon Johnson also waited until the convention opened in 1960 to declare his candidacy; he didn't get the presidential nomination but he did manage to make it onto the Democratic ticket.

Since the age of primaries, there have been changes in momentum in some nomination battles; witness George McGovern's rise to the top in 1972, and the back-and-forths between President Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan in 1976, and President Carter and challenger Edward Kennedy in 1980. All of those contests were exciting and, at one point or another, totally unpredictable. But in more recent battles for the nomination — George Bush in 1988, Michael Dukakis in '88, Bill Clinton in '92, Bob Dole in '96, Gore himself and the younger Bush in 2000, John Kerry last time out — the race was over almost before it began. My guess is that's what will happen again this time. I'll be the first to let out a cheer if I'm proven wrong.

Q: With the entry of Alan Keyes into the presidential race, I realized that, at least in theory, there are two sets of potential White House matchups that would be rematches of Senate contests: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani from 2000, and Keyes and Barack Obama from 2004. Are there any other times that a presidential race revisited a Senate race? ... other than Lincoln versus Douglas in 1860, of course. — Carl Malmstrom, Chicago

A: That is some theory, given the (shall we say) unlikelihood that Keyes will be the GOP nominee in '08. And, for the record, Clinton didn't face Giuliani in the 2000 New York Senate race; Giuliani dropped out for health reasons and she wound up facing then-Rep. Rick Lazio.

That leaves Lincoln versus Douglas: combatants in the 1860 presidential race and in the 1858 Senate contest in Illinois. That's the only time it happened.

Q: I've been reading about the attempts at getting Al Gore into the presidential race. Interestingly, Fred Thompson held his Senate seat after Gore became vice president. If Gore were to get into the race, would this be the first time that two men who held the same Senate seat ran for president at the same time? If both were to win their party's nominations, would this be the first time two men who held the same Senate seat ever run for president against each other in the general election? — Gus Sperrazza, Washington, D.C.

A: I can think of at least one time where two men who held the same Senate seat ran for president at the same time. That was in 1972, when Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey and his predecessor, Eugene McCarthy, were both vying for the Democratic nomination. But men who held the same Senate seat never went on to face each other in the general election battle for the White House.

Q: In your Oct. 3 column, you answered a question regarding the five Republican House members who, along with Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), voted against going to war in Iraq in 2002. But you listed only four names — John Hostettler (IN), Jim Leach (IA), Connie Morella (MD) and Jimmy Duncan (TN). Who was the fifth? — Gerry Hoffman, Edinboro, Pa.

A: I don't know what's worse: That I don't know how to count, or the fact that you are the only reader to catch this error. In any event, I inadvertently omitted the name of former Rep. Amo Houghton of New York.

Q: Your "this day in history" in the Sept. 26 column, referring to the 1978 elections in Alabama, got me to thinking back to that year as being the last time so many incumbent senators lost their bids for re-election. Both Clifford Case (R-NJ) and Maryon Allen (D-AL) lost in the primaries, and such long-timers as Robert Griffin (R-MI), Thomas McIntyre (D-NH) and Edward Brooke (R-MA) all fell in the general election. Was 1978 the current high watermark for incumbent Senate defeats in a cycle? — Marshall Solomon, Chicago

A: You left out some other incumbent senators who went down to defeat that year: Floyd Haskell (D-CO), Dick Clark (D-IA), William Hathaway (D-ME), Wendell Anderson (D-MN) and Paul Hatfield (D-MT in the primary). That's 10 in all (three in the primaries and seven in the general). That tied the number of incumbents who went down to defeat in 1958 (when all were Republicans and all lost in the general election).

But that number was quickly eclipsed. Two years later, in 1980, 13 Senate incumbents were defeated. Four were toppled in the primary: Donald Stewart (D-AL), Mike Gravel (D-AK), Dick Stone (D-FL) and Jacob Javits (R-NY). The other nine lost in the general: Herman Talmadge (D-GA), Frank Church (D-ID), Birch Bayh (D-IN), John Culver (D-IA), John Durkin (D-NH), Robert Morgan (D-NC), George McGovern (D-SD), Warren Magnuson (D-WA) and Gaylord Nelson (D-WI).

FAMOUS CAMPAIGN COLLAPSES: That was the theme of the Oct. 3 column, comparing the collapse of the Mets with some famous Senate campaigns of the past. I also solicited other surprising election results of the past.

For Warren Chism of Albany, Ore., the 1968 Senate race in which incumbent Democrat Wayne Morse lost to Bob Packwood (R) remains "quite painful to me personally. ... I'm not sure if collapse is the right term, as it was more of a matter of being a victim of cynical hyper-patriotic exploitation of the passions and divisiveness over Vietnam."

Tim Tuinstra of Pittsburgh — a "long-suffering Pirates fan" who finds it hard to feel sorry for the Mets — lists one I wish I thought of: the 1991 special election to succeed the late Sen. John Heinz (R), in which ex-Gov./ex-Attorney General Dick Thornburgh (R) started out with a 40-point lead over Dem appointee Harris Wofford but wound up losing 55-45 percent. Tim also throws in California Gov. Gray Davis (D), re-elected a year earlier, who is "summarily bounced in a recall election" in 2003.

The one that stands out for Jack Wilson of Austin, Texas, is the 1970 Democratic primary in Texas between liberal Sen. Ralph Yarborough and his successful conservative challenger, Lloyd Bentsen. "Conservatives had been after Yarborough since he won a special election in 1957 and finally got him in 1970," Tuinstra writes.

Bruce MacNeil of Arlington, Va., had his own list, which consisted of Malcolm Wallop (R) ousting Sen. Gale McGee in Wyoming in 1976, Slade Gorton (R) defeating Sen. Warren Magnuson in Washington in 1980, Roger Jepsen (R) surprising Sen. Dick Clark in Iowa in 1978 and, going a bit further back, Stephen Young (D) unseating Sen. John Bricker (R) in Ohio in 1958.

Frank Buckley of Haddam, Conn., also had a list, including one campaign he worked on: the 1988 race where Democratic state Attorney General Joe Lieberman (D) defeated Sen. Lowell Weicker (R). "I worked for Weicker and he started way ahead. When the returns came in from Fairfield County (Weicker's home turf), we knew we were 'toast.' I was in Weicker's election night HQ and answered a ringing telephone. It was Sen. Strom Thurmond calling to offer condolences!"

And while this is not a Senate race, Patrick Bihn of Rock Island, Ill., adds the 1998 Iowa governor's race. GOP candidate Jim Ross Lightfoot "was a heavy favorite and held as much as a 20-point lead. But as a result of bad campaigning by Lightfoot and good campaigning by Tom Vilsack (D), the seemingly impossible happened. Vilsack won."

DEMOCRATS HOLD MASSACHUSETTS 5th DISTRICT SEAT: Niki Tsongas, the widow of Paul Tsongas (who held this House seat for two terms before he won a Senate race in '78), narrowly defeated Jim Ogonowski, a retired Air Force officer whose brother was the pilot of a hijacked plane that rammed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. Tsongas won 51 percent of the vote to Ogonowski's 45 percent. She will succeed Marty Meehan (D), who left Congress to become chancellor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Republicans came close, but they still haven't won this seat since 1972, when they defeated a fellow by the name of John Kerry.

TRANSITION: Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA, 1st Congressional District), 57, in her fourth term representing southeastern Virginia, died of breast cancer on Oct. 6. She was the first female Republican to represent the state in the House. She is also the fifth member of the 110th Congress to die in office this year. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) is expected to soon announce the date of the special election to replace her; the district is heavily Republican ... Two more Republican House members, both from Ohio, have announced their retirement: Ralph Regula (16th Congressional District), who has served longer (continuously) than any congressman in the history of the state, and David Hobson (7th Congressional District) said they will not stick around for the 111th Congress. Hobson's seat is considered safe for the GOP, but Regula's is more problematic. That makes three Buckeye Republicans who plan to leave (joining Deborah Pryce) and 12 Republicans nationally.

ON THE CALENDAR:

Oct. 18-21 - Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit, Washington, D.C.

Oct. 20 - Louisiana open governor election. Candidates: Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), Walter Boasso (D), Foster Campbell (D), and John Georges (I). Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) is not seeking a second term.

Oct. 21 - Republican presidential candidate debate, Orlando, Fla. (Fox News).

WE'RE ON THE AIR EVERY WEDNESDAY: Reading this column is bad enough; you can also hear a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, usually at 2:40 p.m. ET (sometimes, if warranted, we start at 2 p.m.; you never know in this wacky business). If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web. This week: Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway on the Al Gore reality check.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and myself. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here.

As you're probably aware, I often reprint some of the more laudatory e-mails I get regarding the podcast. But not everyone is happy. Steve Collins of Ann Arbor, Mich., writes, "If there were one place in the media that I would expect to have the dynamism, the intellectual firepower, and the incredible foresight with which to ditch a conventional paradigm when it has ceased to be useful, that place would be 'It's All Politics.' And yet, to my disappointment, I tuned in this week [Oct. 4] and heard more of the 'Hillary is imminent/unstoppable' stuff. The polling numbers in Iowa show a dead heat with Barack Obama. Please, take a stroll outside of the Beltway for a moment and sample that fresh air!" (Still, for the record, Steve did end his e-mail with, "Otherwise, love the show!")

And Ben Garvin of Minneapolis, Minn., another one who says he "loves the show," offers some "humble advice" to my cohort Elving: "Ron, drink four shots of whiskey before the show. Have more fun! Be more silly! Release control and see what happens!" First of all, Ben, you really don't want to know how many shots of whiskey Ron takes before and during the podcast. Second of all, you also have no idea how many jokes are cut out of the podcast each week by our evil editors. And finally, I'm not sure Ron and I could have been sillier (oops, I mean sophisticatedly cleverer) than we were in last week's program. Check it out.

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in campaign history: Democrat Gene Taylor easily wins the special congressional election in Mississippi's 5th District necessitated by the death of GOP incumbent Larkin Smith in an August plane crash. Taylor receives 65 percent of the vote against Tom Anderson, a longtime aide to Sen. Trent Lott (Oct. 17, 1989).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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