Clinton vs. Gore?

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On Saturday on MSNBC, this writer volunteered that if Al Gore would enter the Democratic primaries, he could defeat Hillary Clinton and win the nomination. Hours later, there popped up on Drudge this headline: “Al Gore Says He Hasn’t Ruled Out Second Run.”

“I haven’t ruled out running for president again in the future, but I don’t expect to,” Gore told reporters in Australia, where he has been promoting his film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Al must have been watching MSNBC.

And why should Al Gore cede the nomination and a place in history he coveted to the spouse of the man but for whose personal transgressions he would be president of the United States?

If Al ran, he would open with a pair of aces. To Democrats, Gore was right on the war when almost everyone else was wrong, which gives him the inside track to the antiwar vote that will be as crucial in the Democratic primaries of 2008 as it was in 1968 and 1972.

Both of the other major antiwar candidates, John Kerry and John Edwards, voted for the war – before they voted against it. Gore opposed it from the outset. And his endorsement of Howard Dean, much ridiculed when Dean disintegrated weeks later, looks less like a political gaffe now than an act of principle.

Second, Gore has taken out the patent on the global warming issue, and the environmental movement remains a powerful engine of cash and campaign labor inside the Democratic Party.

Third, Hillary has slipped 11 points, from 43 to 32, in a Fox poll of Democrats as to whom they wish to see nominated. Gore has moved into second at 15, passing Kerry at 13, for whom a Gore run would probably mean the end of the line.

Clearly, Hillary has a hellish problem with her stand on the war. And though she will win a stunning re-election victory in November, that does not solve her problem with the party base. She is going to have to move on the war or be pummeled by the activist wing of the party for two years.

Fourth, as a candidate, Hillary is too programmed. She has made all the right moves in the Senate to erase her image as a militant feminist, but lacks the platform skills of Bill and cannot bring to a debate the passion of Gore, who appears to believe deeply in what he preaches on both the war and global warming.

Fifth, her position as front-runner makes her the natural target for the other candidates, while her loss of 11 points and slippage to 32 percent makes her vulnerable. In a head-to-head race, Gore runs stronger than Hillary against McCain. He is down 6, she is down 7. And while Gore has been damaged by defeats and some of his shrill speeches, he does not carry as much scar tissue as Hillary.

Sixth, there is a sense among Democrats that Hillary cannot win a general election. Her six years in the Senate have not removed the indelible impression of her eight White House years, when Americans concluded she was too polarizing and divisive a figure to lead the nation. That sentiment surfaces in every poll.

One of the reasons Gore lost in 2000, though he had a plurality of the votes, is that many Americans felt the eight-year soap opera had just gone on for too long. It had to be canceled.

A Hillary nomination run would revive all that. And while the leaks about her wanting to take Harry Reid‘s job rather than George Bush‘s seem to have been planted and malicious, the question has surely crossed her mind as to whether a nomination run would be worth it, and whether her defeat would be inevitable, even if nominated.

The advantages Hillary would have in the primaries are that she holds out the promise of being the first woman president and no one will raise more money.

If Gore wants to be president, however, this is surely his last chance, and he would have to begin to pull his old team together, many of whom have moved on, and to court state leaders, many of whom have already begun to commit to other candidates.

Hillary has the option of waiting much longer to decide when and whether to get in. Gore must decide soon after November.

When Gore said in Australia he did not rule out running, he was careful to add, “but I don’t expect to.” Which is understandable. Gore has a good life, fame and fortune, and the possibility of being called to serve in high office in any future Democratic administration.

But he can also see – indeed the numbers says so – that there is a path to the nomination, and the presidency, narrow though it may be, that has opened up for him. And it will be open for only a few months before it closes again, forever.

Al vs. Hillary. The Gores demanding that the Clintons, who once put them a heartbeat away from the presidency, stand aside, because it is Al’s turn, not Hillary’s. How would Bill and Hillary deal with that?

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