NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Howard Dean (search) can claim Al Gore's endorsement, but the dispiriting reality for the fallen front-runner is he may match the former vice president's 2000 showing in Tennessee -- a Gore loss in his home state.
The Democratic presidential candidate is polling in single digits in advance of Tennessee's primary Tuesday and has no plans to visit, choosing to look ahead to must-win Wisconsin and its Feb. 17 primary to salvage his campaign.
"He thinks Tennessee is a long shot, and his lack of activity here has ensured that," said John Geer, a Vanderbilt University (search) political scientist.
Gore's lack of activity may have contributed, too.
The 2000 Democratic presidential nominee has flown as far away as Iowa and Michigan to campaign for Dean, but has barely lifted a finger in the state that launched his political career, and where he teaches and maintains a home and a farm. He also has not helped Dean raise campaign money here.
Gore will attend a Democratic fund-raiser Sunday in Nashville, but it's for the state party -- not for Dean -- and Gore is one of three former officeholders being honored.
Most former Gore supporters are working for rival campaigns, with the notable exception being Roy Neel (search), who recently accepted the job of trying to right Dean's campaign ship.
Gore could not be reached for comment, and his aides declined to answer questions about the impact of his Dean endorsement in early December on the campaign.
Gore remains a popular standard-bearer for some Tennessee Democrats, but he has frustrated the more conservative arm of the party. As he took to the national stage in the 1990s after representing Tennessee in House and Senate for 16 years, his stance on issues such as abortion and gun control became increasingly liberal.
Four years ago, Gore lost Tennessee to Republican George W. Bush, 51 percent to 47 percent, and the state continues its tilt to the right.
"You lose contact with the public and you can give all the endorsements you want, but you become a voice in a hollow tree," said Democrat Tommy Burnett, a former lawmaker and lobbyist.
Allison Shaw, who was casting her ballot for Wesley Clark on the last day of Tennessee's early voting period Thursday, said Gore's endorsement hurts Dean in Tennessee.
"A lot of people see Al Gore (search) as ... out there, not in touch with most Tennesseans."
But Deb McCarver, a spokeswoman for the Dean campaign in Tennessee, argued that Gore's backing could help Dean, particularly among black Tennesseeans.
"We've done things in African-American neighborhoods in Nashville where a lot of people have told us, 'If Gore's for him, we're for him,"' she said.
Several Democrats have argued that the embrace from party establishment figures such as Gore, former President Carter and Bill Bradley undercut Dean's attempt to portray himself as a Washington outsider.
Even Dean has suggested that Gore's endorsement may have doomed him. Asked whether Gore's backing marked the decline of his campaign, Dean concurred.
"I actually do think the endorsement of Al Gore began the decline, not for the reason that you said, because the establishment in Washington really realized that I might be the nominee and they did not like that," Dean told CNN on Tuesday night. "The media folks didn't like it, the other folks in the race didn't like it, and they did everything they could to make sure we weren't" the nominee.
Burnett said "the real problem is that Dean has some sort of twist to his personality that warms you up and then alienates you. That's his problem, not Gore's."
Some analysts think Dean's poor showing in spite of Gore's endorsement could damage any future political aspirations the former vice president might have, but Geer said Gore remains a political force.
"It would be better if Dean won," Geer said, "but the reality is that Gore still has a lot of clout in the party and he has reminded people he's still a player."