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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gore Bows Out of Presidential Race

WASHINGTON -- Al Gore would have been a formidable Democratic primary candidate, but his decision to forgo the 2004 race probably helped his party's chances in the general election against U.S. President George W. Bush, Democrats say.

Many did not want to see Bush-Gore II.

"He would have been the easiest of our guys for Bush to beat," said Gale Kaufman, a party strategist in California. "And I don't think we need to make things easy on Bush. We need people who can speak out against the president, keep him off balance."

In nearly two dozen interviews after Gore announced his plans Sunday, Democrats dutifully claimed their party had lost a top candidate, but many also spoke of the silver lining.

One after another, they praised Gore for taking an early exit from a primary race he could have won, sparing them a repeat of 2000.

Campaign workers and donors frozen in place while Gore made up his mind can now go to work for other Democratic hopefuls.

And with Gore on the sidelines, the Democratic field may grow even larger than expected.

"Given his obvious ambivalence about running, he has done the party a great favor by leaving early and creating a wide-open field that will allow somebody else to emerge," said Joe Lockhart, who was White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton.

Announcing his plans, Gore said Sunday night he has the energy and drive to run for president, but a rematch would have put the focus on the past and not the future.

"There are a lot of people within the Democratic Party who felt exhausted [by the 2000 race] ... who felt like, OK, 'I don't want to go through that again.' And I'm frankly sensitive to that feeling," the former vice president told the CBS television channel's "60 Minutes."

Many Democratic activists had voiced opposition to Gore running, citing the fumbled opportunities of the 2000 campaign when he had the advantages of incumbency and a booming economy. Gore lost the presidency to Bush after an extensive recount in Florida came up short by just over 500 votes.

"I think [Gore's decision] actually should be helpful from the standpoint that a rerun of last time -- with the dynamics now of a sitting president doing well in the polls -- would not have been the best thing for the Democratic Party," strategist Kaufman said.

Gore has not had have enough time to combat perceptions that he is unlikeable and insincere -- a politician constantly trying to reinvent himself, several Democrats said.

"It clearly takes a very talented, very experienced candidate out of the race. It's a shame whenever a party loses somebody with that kind of electoral experience," said Ron Klain, who helped run Gore's failed 2000 bid.

"On the other hand, it obviously opens it up for a lot of new folks to step forward."

The Democrat who stood to gain the most from Gore's decision is his former running mate, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who had vowed not to challenge Gore for the nomination. He is expected to soon announce his candidacy.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, who along with retiring Vermont Governor Howard Dean has already jumped into the race, might be able to take advantage of the short window of time when the field is small.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who has sent strong signals that he is likely to run, was mentioned by several activists who discussed the need for a new face for the party.

Gore's departure leaves more room on the party's left for Missouri Representative Dick Gephardt, a longtime ally of organized labor who is considering the race.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota is expected to announce his plans next month, but Republican victories in November's congressional elections hurt both Gephardt and Daschle.

The wide-open field will be appealing to dark horses, including retired General Wesley Clark and Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

The White House had no comment on the political implications Sunday, but the president's advisers have privately said they relished another shot at Gore.

"He would have been the most predictable candidate," Republican pollster Whit Ayres said.

"You know exactly how to run against Gore and now it's going to be a much less predictable race for the president."

Despite disclaimers by Gore, some Democrats said they expected to see him seek the presidency again -- perhaps in 2008 when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is said to be considering a race too. And opting out of the 2004 race may be the best way to reinvent his overly political image, they said.

"Obviously, he's not going away," said Kathleen Sullivan, former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. "This gives him an opportunity to be a spokesman for the party without being accused of having ulterior motives."

Gore himself said he probably won't get another chance. "I'm not planning on some future race," he said.