Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A 'New' Al Gore Returns:front, Not Quite Center

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A 'New' Al Gore Returns:front, Not Quite Center

Article excerpt

Two years after his quest for the presidency ended on the steps of the US Supreme Court, Al Gore is back - and he's presenting a whole new side of himself. In a flurry of recent TV appearances promoting his new book on families, the former vice president has been seen:

* Driving a rental car through Iowa while singing "On the Road Again," on ABC's 20/20.

* Telling talk-show host David Letterman that he's always grown a beard on vacation - it's just that the period after the 2000 election was the longest vacation he'd ever had.

* Floating as a disembodied head in a jar on the FOX cartoon show "Futurama," where he's dubbed "the inventor of the environment."

But beyond poking fun at himself, Mr. Gore has also been taking some bold policy positions. At a time when the Democratic Party is reeling from midterm defeats, Gore has garnered new notice as one of the few Democrats who took pointed stands against the Bush administration on issues from war with Iraq to the tax cut.

Last week, he caused an additional stir by telling a New York audience he has come to favor a "single-payer" national health insurance plan, which typically means the government pays all medical bills through taxes - a far more radical scheme than he endorsed in the 2000 campaign, and one that even many Democrats regard as politically risky.

For a politician who is often associated with stiffness and caution, it all seems strikingly uninhibited. And while critics may call it just another "reinvention," Gore supporters say that if he does run again, he'll conduct a very different campaign.

"This is the first time in his life when he has not been an incumbent," says Elaine Kamarck, a longtime Gore adviser. "He has a sense of liberation."

THE spate of publicity is ostensibly tied to the release of Gore's new book, "Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family," which he wrote with his wife, Tipper, and of a companion volume of photographs they edited. But Gore's reemergence in the public eye also comes at a time of intense behind-the-scenes jockeying for the 2004 Democratic nomination. Most contenders are expected to make decisions about the race by the year's end - including Gore, who has said that he'll make a public announcement shortly after the holidays.

Ms. Kamarck says some recent conversations with Gore lead her to believe he's definitely running - though at other times, she says, he seems so uninterested that she's convinced he might not run, after all.

If he does ultimately jump in, he's unlikely to have a clear path to the nomination. Despite Gore's advantage in name recognition, other prominent Democrats - including former House minority leader Richard Gephardt, Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, and Gore's former running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman - have laid the groundwork for runs of their own. …

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