WASHINGTON — With Friday's announcement that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, his fans are pressing anew to persuade him to jump into the campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
But it's late in the game, with only 12 weeks before voting starts. Democrats in general are largely satisfied with their field of candidates and are hardly clamoring for him. And the country gives him only middling grades.
Gore himself was coy Friday, urging attention to his cause of global warming rather than on his potential candidacy while continuing to sidestep a flat-out refusal to run for president again.
"The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity," he said in a statement. "It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."
Since losing the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000, the former vice president has focused largely on the fight against global warming. His book and movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," became a best-seller and won an Academy Award, respectively.
To a group of people trying to draft Gore to run for president, the Peace Prize is both a ratification of Gore's work and a calling card into the campaign.
"It confirms our judgment of the man, his principles, vision, experience, efforts, as well as promise. He is in a unique position not only to lead our country, but to make America once again an agent for peace in the world," said the North Carolina-based group, draftgore.com.
"This award will only add to the tremendous tidal wave of support for Al Gore and the growing demands that he become a candidate for President in 2008. He is in a unique position to make a difference in the world on the one issue he believes to be the most important of our times. We believe that under these circumstances he has no choice but to take the one step left to have the greatest impact in changing policy on global warming — run for President."
The group was started by a California woman before the last presidential election, but it failed to press Gore into that campaign. Gore grew into an early and vocal critic of Bush's policies, particularly on the Iraq war. But he passed up a chance to run in 2004, throwing his support behind former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Since then, he has consistently said he isn't planning to run in 2008, but also has consistently refused to rule out a run.
Some close to him speculate that he still would like to be president and would accept the nomination if handed to him, but that he wouldn't want to have to slug it out with the well-financed campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — and perhaps lose.
But to get the nod, he would have to fight for the nomination and begin building a campaign organization in early voting states such as Iowa in just weeks.
Clinton, Obama and John Edwards already have widespread organizations in Iowa, where it's important to have field operatives to organize the town hall-like caucus meetings and where it's more difficult to win than in a simple primary where people merely show up and vote.
Also, while some Democratic activists want Gore to run, there's no broad hunger for someone like him to come in and save the party from a weak field of candidates. A recent Gallup poll found that three out of four Democrats are satisfied with the field.
And while Gore has won admiration from many Democrats both for his early opposition to the Iraq war and his work on the environment, that hasn't translated into support for a Gore presidential campaign.
The same survey found Clinton leading nationally with the support of 43 percent of Democrats, Obama with 24 percent and Gore tied with Edwards at 10 percent each.
"The party is content with who is running," said Erik Smith, a Democratic strategist.
Another challenge: Gore doesn't yet have the national standing he enjoys in Democratic circles.
Half the country, 50 percent, had a favorable impression of him in a recent Gallup Poll, while 42 percent had an unfavorable impression.
Among those who had higher favorable ratings:
_ Bill Clinton, 60 percent
_ Barack Obama, 56 percent
_ John McCain, 53 percent
_ Rudy Giuliani, 52 percent
_ John Edwards, 51 percent
Among those with lower ratings:
_ Hillary Clinton, 49 percent
_ George W. Bush, 37 percent
Ultimately, the Peace Prize, which Gore shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel on the environment, could have the opposite effect on Gore than the one envisioned by fans: It could reinforce a decision that he can have more impact on the world stage by not running for office.
"No one knows better than him what he can do as politician and what he can do as a non-politician," said Smith. "He seems to have found a place where he's comfortable. This may reinforce his instinct that he doesn't want to be back in politics."