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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 21:02 GMT 22:02 UK
Al Gore resurfaces
Former US Vice President Al Gore
Al Gore will decide on a presidential bid by December

First he grew a beard.

Then he shaved it off.

Such is the state of Democratic party politics that both events were greeted as hugely significant - first as a sign that the former candidate Al Gore was entering a period of contemplation, and then, with the shaving event, that he had exited that period with a new determination to crack on with his political career.

There was also some talk of allowing the Future Gore to talk more openly and be less affected by pollsters. But still no sign that he was really going for it - no "smoking gun," to use a currently fashionable phrase.

Now suddenly all that has changed. Al Gore is back and back with a bang.

Political manoeuvering

His Iraq speech in California was a political shot in the dark, a big risk.

It is the kind of risk that a candidate needs to take if he is going to make people sit up and take notice a second time round.

Gore stepped in just as it appeared that pro-war sentiment would go virtually unchallenged in Congress and in the country

Pollster John Zogby

It is worth noting that most of the other serious contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2004 have played it safe.

They are either toeing the White House line on Iraq or simply saying nothing.

Pollster John Zogby said Mr Gore's message was "very well timed."

"Gore stepped in just as it appeared that pro-war sentiment would go virtually unchallenged in Congress and in the country," Mr Zogby said. "There will be an anti-war movement that grows out of this."

Steven Wayne, a political scientist at Georgetown University said: "Gore put forward some legitimate and substantive arguments which might make it possible for the country to have a real debate. That makes him stand out among the various potential Democratic presidential candidates."

Executive decisions

That, indeed, is what the former presidential candidate wants to do. He will decide in December whether or not to run again but if he is going to run he needs to have a high profile by then.

President Bush
Bush wants a change of regime in Iraq

This speech and the reaction to it is a good profile-winner.

Of course, it could also be a disaster.

If there was a short successful war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and US troops came home relatively unscathed, those who opposed the war would find themselves in deep, deep trouble.

And if Al Gore had positioned himself as the leader of the opposition he would be politically dead.

But the calculation he seems to have made is that the likelihood of Mr Bush's Iraq policy succeeding is small.

If the Democrats are going to pick Al Gore a second time - and it does look likely that they will - they will be in an uncomfortable position: their patriotic selves hoping for victory in Iraq, their political selves hoping for something else.


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See also:

24 Sep 02 | Middle East
24 Sep 02 | Americas
23 Sep 02 | Panorama
23 Sep 02 | Middle East
16 Sep 02 | Middle East
22 Sep 02 | Middle East
19 Sep 02 | Americas
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