. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Can Clinton Help Gore Be Next in Line?

President Bill Clinton's re-election makes Al Gore into the heir apparent for the presidency in 2000, but only after a bitter struggle for the soul of the Democratic party.

This means that Clinton's greatest character test is looming, to show whether he is a man of sufficient honor to do as much for the election of Gore as his vice president has done for the Clinton presidency.

"Incomparable," was the word used by former New York governor Mario Cuomo to describe Gore's tenure of the job once described by former vice president James Nance Garner as "not worth a bucketful of warm spit."

"Al Gore has clearly taken the vice presidency to a new level," said professor Michael Nelson of Rhodes College, the leading historian of the veeps. "It is clear to me that no other vice president in history has enjoyed the same level of responsibility and good personal relations with the president."

Gore has been given over the past four years an unprecedented range of duties by Clinton from environmental issues to high-technology policy to reforming the bureaucracy. He has been the most visible, and by most accounts the most successful, vice president in the history of the most frustrating post in American government.

He launched a new kind of personal diplomacy with his joint commission with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that bring them together with cabinet ministers on bilateral issues from trade to environmental protection and arms control. Gore has since established similar commissions with Egypt and South Africa and is currently working on developing one with China.

Gore's loyalists are all over the Clinton administration. White House counsel Jack Quinn was Gore's chief of staff. The Clinton-Gore campaign manager was Peter Knight, who was Gore's chief aide in the Senate. Clinton's domestic policy chief, Bruce Reed, used to write Gore's speeches. One in three of the campaign finance directors were Gore's men.

The prospect of his succession dismays Democrats on the left. They fear that a Gore succession would finally set in stone Clinton's project to haul the party bodily into the electable center, to shift the Democrats from their urban and New Deal roots into the dominant new political demography of the middle-class suburbs.

"We have the greatest inequality since the 1920s. We have still declining wages. There is nothing in the Clinton-Gore agenda that would suggest wages won't continue to decline for more and more Americans," said Bob Borosage, an adviser to Jesse Jackson and head of the leftist Democratic group Committee for America's Future.

In this election season, Gore has been reaching out to the unions and making overtures to the left. "This two-headed monster of Dole-Gingrich has launched an all-out assault on decades of progress on behalf of working men and women," Gore told a union convention last month.

The son of a U.S. senator, brought up in a hotel suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and a product of private schools and Harvard, Gore is a Democratic patrician. But to nail down his succession, he will have to step up that populist rhetoric and defeat the likely challenge from the left. To do that, he will have to rely over the next four years on Clinton, whom he served so dutifully in the first term.