Former Vice President Al Gore kicked off a weekend retreat for some of the Democratic Party's top fund-raisers and party activists with a barbecue ribs dinner Friday night.

Gore said the focus of the retreat was to plan party strategies for congressional elections in 2002. But the gathering also was seen as a way for Gore to test his ability to raise money for a run for president in 2004.

"I won't be making any announcements or decisions on that this weekend and I don't think anybody is expecting that," he said before going to dinner at the Rendezvous, one of the city's best-known barbecue restaurants.

Mitchell Berger, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said he expects Gore to get in the race and to have plenty of money to finance his candidacy.

"I think he will and I hope he will," Berger said.

While Gore was noncommittal on 2004, his wife was not.

She told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis that she wants her husband to run for president again.

"I think we'd have the opportunity to really begin fresh with our own organization and way of doing things, which is very appealing to me in many ways," she told the newspaper.

Gore failed to carry his home state in the 2000 presidential election, which cost the Democrats the electoral votes to win the race.

Since then, the Gores have split their time between the family farm 40 miles east of Nashville, and a home in Arlington, Va., that has been in Tipper Gore's family for 64 years.

They recently purchased a $2.3 million home in Belle Meade, an affluent town of 3,000 bordering Nashville.

Gore has been teaching classes at Fisk University and at Middle Tennessee State University.

Gore was a Tennessee congressman and senator for 16 years before being elected vice president in 1992.