BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—Al Gore faced an unwelcome choice when a fan pushed a copy of his new book at him for his autograph.
Inside the cover she wrote, "Plan to run for president in 2008?" with boxes marked "yes" or "no." Gore paused, then scribbled one word—"plans"_ next to the "no" box and checked it. No plans, but not a firm no.
His artfully qualified answer underscored the fact that, despite his protests, Gore refuses to rule out another run for president. He's keeping his options open.
"If he is running, he's doing all the right things," said Brian Melendez, the chairman of the state Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota. "He tried it the traditional way the last time and look what it got him. This time, he's a passionate man indulging his passion. If it happens to take off for him in the next year, he would be very well positioned."
His crusade to curb global warming by staging an award winning movie and writing a best-selling book is pushing him back into the spotlight—and into the hearts of rank-and-file Democrats in ways that more conventional politicians can only envy. In the process, he's invented a deceptively clever path back into presidential politics, should he decide to take it.
While it's not a traditional campaign, "it's the most brilliant campaign anyone is running right now," said Martin Peretz, a longtime Gore friend and the editor-in-chief of The New Republic, a neo-liberal magazine. "It may be the most brilliant campaign launch in our time."
At a recent book signing in Beverly Hills, hundreds of people waited for as long as four hours to see Gore in a line that stretched more than a block. When he first walked in, tie-less and clad entirely in black like some latter-day Johnny Cash, he was greeted by chants of "08, 08, 08."
"You're president in our hearts," said Julia Winbrandt, an administrative assistant from Los Angeles.
To those urging him to run, Gore repeated again and again that he had no plans to run. But he never ruled it out.
"He says he has no plans. But plans change," said Angela Cortez, a sales director of a matchmaking service.
Added Rachel Toll, an administrative assistant who attended the event with her biologist daughter: "This is such a perfect platform for him."
Indeed, the man who won the popular vote in 2000 but lost the presidency to George W. Bush has endeared himself anew to many Democrats. Some still think he was unfairly denied victory in 2000; others think he's the party's best hope for winning in 2008, especially those who're convinced that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., the presumed front-runner, can't win a general election.
Gore already had delighted liberals with his early, full-throated opposition to the Iraq war. Now he's developing new ways to reach them through Moveon.org, the Internet-based political-organizing group, bypassing the traditional news media that filtered his message and often ridiculed him in 2000.
The one-two punch of his movie and book about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," presents him as devoted to a cause bigger than himself and thus less narrowly partisan than other potential 2008 candidates.
To be sure, the movie/book campaign reflects Gore's longtime interest in global warming. But tellingly, it's also about Al Gore.
Both the film and the book include numerous infomercials about Gore himself—about how his son's auto accident gave him perspective on life, about how a beloved sister died of cancer, about his love of nature and his down-home roots on a farm in Tennessee.
"I was a little surprised at how capital P political it was," said Patricia Waak, the chair of the state Democratic Party in Colorado. "It does give you a sense that there is something political there."
By crusading against global warming as a moral imperative, Gore appears to be renouncing political self-interest, which gives greater credibility to his cause while also potentially making himself all the more beguiling.
"He's got the best of both worlds," said Terry Lierman, the Democratic State party chairman in Maryland. "He's not chasing it, and he's being pursued."
Gore's crusade also underscores his devotion to reinventing political communication. Speaking through Moveon.org, for example, allows Gore to deliver his anti-war message unedited to millions of liberals.
He also has his own Web site, and he helped to create an interactive television service, Current TV, that allows viewers to contribute content.
Of course, there's also the movie—a 90-minute-plus lecture by Gore, with state-of-the-art production values, about the menace of global warming, illustrated with scenes from around the world of glaciers cracking apart and crashing into the sea.
"He's got no filter between his message and the viewer," said Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign and was among the first political operatives to tap into the Internet's power to bypass the traditional media and reach people.
"The movie is a bold step to get a message out without somebody in between the messenger and the consumer."
One reason that Gore's shunning the traditional approach to running for president, of course, could be that he really doesn't want to run.
But if that's true, he could flatly rule it out.
Another possible motive is that his hint of possibly running makes the media more interested in him, creating more buzz and interest in his cause.
Yet another is that his non-campaign campaign is putting him in a better position to run later and delay having to make all the grueling fundraising calls and chicken-dinner speeches that other candidates will have to start soon. This strategy would allow Gore to enter the race late, declaring that he hears the demand for a draft. But it also would leave him the option of declining to run, if by, say, late 2007, he doubted that he could win his party's nomination.
"My guess is that he doesn't want to run and lose the nomination. He wouldn't be as edgy about losing to a Republican," Peretz said.
For more on Gore's Web site go to, www.climatecrisis.org
AN UNQUALIFIED NO
Al Gore says he won't make a "Shermanesque" statement ruling out another run for the presidency.
What is that?
After retiring from the army in 1884, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, the famous Union leader of the Civil War, set the standard for ruling out a presidential campaign without any hint of hedging.
"I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected," he told the Republican National Convention by telegram, according to Safire's Political Dictionary.
Gore has told numerous interviewers that while he has no plans to run again for president, he can't quite renounce his life's work just yet by issuing such a flat declarative statement because "it's a matter of internal shifting of gears" within himself.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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