He’s won his Oscar. Is the former VP thinking of a White House run?
BY <dc:creator>LUIZA CH. SAVAGE</dc:creator> • Former U.S. vicepresident Al Gore has just turned 59, and says he has “no plans” to seek the presidency in 2008. But since he refuses to rule out the possibility that he might at any moment acquire such plans, no one is counting him out—especially not pollsters, who find he ranks third in the hearts of Democrats, behind Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, and tied with John Edwards.
After winning the popular vote but losing the presidential election in 2000, Gore left to go sailing around Greece, grew a beard, and spent several years shedding the label of loser. Several tuxedo sizes and an unpopular war later, some voters are having second thoughts. “A lot of people look at him and say, ‘What if? What if it hadn’t been for the Supreme Court decision? What would the world look like today?’ ” says Monica Friedlander, a founder of DraftGore.com, a California-based Internet site urging him to run that has drawn more than 66,000 signatures, including, she says, some from Canada.
Now Gore is campaigning to save the planet. But his far-flung tours promoting the “global climate crisis” have the underpinnings of a traditional political campaign: there’s the rallying of supporters, the gathering of email addresses, and the telling of well-worn jokes at every stop (“Hi, I’m Al Gore-I used to be the next president of the United States”).
When Gore, a former congressman and senator, returned to Capitol Hill to make his case to Congress last month, his fans overran the cavernous hallways, hearing rooms, and two overflow spaces. Many Democratic senators were also smitten. California’s Barbara Boxer compared him to the late civil rights icon Rosa Parks. And Senator Clinton, the person with the most to lose from a potential Gore candidacy, gushed about his “absolutely wonderful,” “extremely intriguing,” “very exciting” and “terrific” ideas. She was so enthusiastic about his proposed “carbon neutral mortgage association,” for example, that she urgently wanted to know whether a hypothetical lender should be limited to financing extra insulation on a new home or
could boldly branch out to cover energy efficient appliances as well. “I would have to think about it,” Gore responded, cautiously. “But I don’t see why you couldn’t.” Clinton beamed, for now.
ENVIRONMENTALISM HAS RAISED HIS PROFILE, BUT IT’S STILL THE SAME OLD GORE’-TOO OFTEN BORING AND WOODEN
support Gore, most say they would vote for Clinton if he doesn’t run. Gore has more experience in the House, Senate and White House than Clinton and is also less polarizing. He shares Edwards’ populist message and, like Obama, was an early critic of the Iraq war. With nearly half of Americans claiming they would never vote for Clinton, Gore can at least claim he won more votes than the current President—even before his global warming film, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar.
“If he decides to jump into the 2008 race, there’s no question Gore would be quite competitive and could secure both the nomination and general election,” Gore’s former campaign manager, Donna Brazile, toldMaclean’s. Gore is also a darling of university campuses, which he frequently visits with his slide show. “There are many young people who believe climate change is the most important issue facing their generation,” says David Halperin, an analyst at the liberal Washington think tank, Center for American Progress. But Democrats are split— and for good reason. A Zogby poll on March 15 found that 43 per cent would not consider voting for him. The problem seems to be that while New Gore may be Oscar-worthy, he is still mostly Old Gore—the boring and wooden bloviator. “I came out of his movie saying, wow, that’s the new Al Gore, it’s amazing, much better than the old Al Gore— as a performer, as a potential vote-seeker,” says Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll. “Then two nights later I saw him interviewed, and it was the same
old Al Gore. All the things that turned people off were still there—the way he speaks, the personality he projects.”
If Gore is secretly planning to run for president, it was not evident at the Senate hearing. The proposals he presented to Congress left no interest group unoffended: from the coal belt to the rust belt to Wall Street, not to mention senior citizens, the poor and, well, everybody else who would have to pay more for energy under his proposed carbon tax, which, Gore openly admitted, is considered politically “wildly unrealistic.” But he soldiered on, proposing to use the carbon tax revenues to eliminate the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare. “I fully understand how inaccessible that sounds,” he said. And if the policies were not the stuff of a typical stump speech, neither was the rhetoric, sprinkled as it was with terms like “enzymatic hydrolysis.”
And he has good reasons not to run. For one thing, he has reportedly added a zero or two to his 1999 net worth of US$800,000. He has amassed an unspecified fortune through business ventures including an advisorship to Google, which he joined three years before its multi-billion-dollar public offering. He sits on the board of Apple Computer, where he has a pile of stock options worth US$2 million, according to Forbes, and has started ventures including Current TV and an investment firm, Generation Investment Management LLP, founded with former Goldman Sachs executive David Blood, nicknamed “Blood and Gore.”
Then there is his glass house problem. It turns out that while he was throwing stones at polluters, his Nashville mansion was guzzling 20 times as much energy as the average American household, racking up bills of nearly US$30,000 for gas and electricity in 2006. The Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which advocates for free market policies and presumably hates his carbon tax agenda, made his utility bills public. Gore explained that he achieves a “carbon neutral” lifestyle by purchasing so-called energy offsets, which pay for such atmosphere-friendly things as planting more trees, pays a premium for using energy produced in part by renewable sources, and is in the process of installing solar panels on his house. But his critics saw hypocrisy and no doubt delicious fodder for political ads, should they ever be necessary.
To Gore, that experience was surely a reminder of the bruising quality of politics, and raised the question of why he would trade in his newfound celebrity status to become just another pol trolling for contributions. So, for now, he is wisely waiting and watching. Should he jump in too soon, he would be seen as a spoiler, particularly to the Clinton camp. But if the front-runners start looking weak, he could ride in the hero, particularly to the more liberal wing of the party.
And he’s not about to fade away any time soon. He is launching a tour in May to promote a book based on his slide show and film. On July 7, he plans a series of Live Earth megaconcerts on all seven continents, including Antarctica. In November, he is slated to receive an international Emmy, and earlier this year, two Norwegian politicians nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
All the while, his political fans and foes will be watching closely for any signs of an impending presidential run, or, for that matter, of a new house. M'
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.