Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gore Steps, Gently, Back into Limelight ; Former Vice President Plans to Campaign for Other Democrats in 2002 - as the Struggle for Party's Leadership Intensifies

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gore Steps, Gently, Back into Limelight ; Former Vice President Plans to Campaign for Other Democrats in 2002 - as the Struggle for Party's Leadership Intensifies

Article excerpt

To Al Gore, it must seem an exasperatingly familiar phenomenon: Every time he's about to step into the spotlight, his former boss comes along and robs him of the moment.

This time, it was former President Bill Clinton's record- breaking book deal that splashed across front pages, overshadowing reports that Mr. Gore was preparing to take his first steps back into political life.

The contrast between the way the two men have been received is striking. Six months after Mr. Clinton left office under a cloud of questionable pardons, he was welcomed with open arms by cheering crowds in New York, as well as much of the media - cable networks even preempted a speech by President Bush to televise Clinton's Harlem homecoming.

Gore, who won the popular vote last November, has been sharply criticized for remaining silent on issues like the environment, and roundly mocked for his newly grown beard and his expanded waistline.

Clearly, Gore's "Clinton problem," which many believe may have cost him the 2000 election, hasn't gone away - and may continue to make things difficult for him, should he decide to run in 2004. But it also points to a larger problem within the Democratic Party, which is struggling to fill its power vacuum in the wake of losing the White House and its most charismatic politician.

Stepping out

With Clinton continuing to attract media attention and exert a certain hold on the party - especially with his wife now in the Senate and his former fundraiser heading the Democratic National Committee - it has been difficult for any member to come forward and claim a strong leadership role.

"No matter what Gore does when he comes out, people will compare it to Clinton's party in Harlem - and they're completely different things," says Greg Simon, a Gore adviser. "I think it's a good thing that [Gore] has stepped back a little bit and gone off the scene for a while to let other people have the stage and do what they can do. And I think it's really interesting that in that process, nobody's really emerged as the leader of the party, or has really stepped up to be the rallying point for any particular issue."

But, slowly, some appear to be trying.

Yesterday, for example, Senate majority leader Tom Daschle hammered at Mr. Bush's foreign policy, criticizing the president for "walking away" from international agreements and putting too much emphasis on missile defense.

Mr. Daschle's national prominence has been rising in the past month, after the Senate shifted from Republican to Democratic control.

He and other potential rivals to Gore can use their elected posts to show leadership, while the road to 2004 is trickier for the former vice president.

Gore's current plans, for example, don't exactly make for a dramatic reentry: He's leading a workshop for political operatives in Nashville next week. …

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