WASHINGTON – Al Gore says whoever the Democrats nominate for president could have an excellent chance to reclaim the White House in 2004 because President Bush's economic policies have been "a catastrophic failure."
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Gore also said Bush is making serious mistakes in the war on terrorism by shifting his focus to Iraq before finishing the job with Al Qaeda.
But the former vice president hasn't yet decided whether to make another run for president. If he does, however, he plans to run a different kind of campaign.
"I've learned a lot over the last two years, including some things about myself," said Gore, the Democratic nominee in 2000. "I think I'm better at some things in politics than others. If I did run again I would concentrate on two things — talking with people in relaxed settings one on one in small groups, and listening carefully ... and taking whatever time I needed to find the words with which I could communicate straight from the heart on the major challenges facing the country.
"The rest of it I would try to completely leave to others ... that includes running around from pillar to post doing these media events from town to town."
Gore is on the brink of deciding whether he will seek the Democratic nomination and thus the chance to oppose Bush for a second time. He said he would decide over the Christmas holidays.
"It's not just about me, it's about how I can best serve my country, whether I would be the best candidate for Democrats to put forward against Bush," Gore said. Gore got the most votes of any Democratic candidate ever and more votes than Bush, even though he narrowly lost the electoral vote count after a drawn-out recount battle in Florida.
He said he believes Democrats should be in good shape to run against Bush in 2004.
Bush has not announced that he will run again, but the presumption is that he will seek re-election.
The Republicans dominated in the elections this year, but that is because the economy's problems "did not count for a lot in the midterm elections because they shifted the national dialogue to a war with Iraq and — as the president's chief of staff put it — they waited until Labor Day to roll out a new product line," Gore said, referring to a possible war with Iraq.
"As the fall elections approached, for whatever reason, he decided to start a new war," Gore said. "Saddam Hussein is a bad guy who deserves to be removed from power. But he is not the one who attacked us Sept. 11. He is not the one who is threatening to kill us right now.
Gore said growing problems with the economy would offer Democrats an opening because the Bush-Cheney economic strategy of providing wide-ranging tax cuts that include the wealthiest Americans "has been a catastrophic failure."
Gore has said the entire Bush economic program and economic team should be thrown out, and the administration should start over with tax cuts aimed specifically at the middle class.
And he said the president has made a mistake by shifting his focus from al-Qaida, blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, to Iraq.
Despite the U.S.-led military campaign to destroy Al Qaeda's base in Afghanistan, he said, "the warlords are back in control, the Taliban is back in and for a variety of reasons Al Qaeda is back at full strength and Usama is back making his threats against the U.S."
The former vice president was interviewed by telephone from Los Angeles.
In response, Republican spokesman Kevin Sheridan said "Al Gore's desperate attacks are losing their shock value."
"Gore accuses the president of not finishing the war on terror but fails to grasp the concept that our threats are not confined to one man, one group or one nation," Sheridan said.
After keeping a low profile for months after the 2000 election loss, the 54-year-old Gore has gradually re-emerged in recent months through a series of policy speeches and a limited number of campaign appearances for Democratic candidates. He's making a book tour with his wife, Tipper, promoting the book they wrote together, Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family.
In the past few days, Gore has made numerous TV appearances, including interviews with Barbara Walters, David Letterman and Larry King.
Gore acknowledged he has plenty of work to do winning over Democrats who remain skeptical after his loss to Bush.
He said he will "have to convince the political insiders and the journalistic community that I'd learned enough to run a better campaign."