Al Gore, loser of the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, accused President Bush of creating profound problems for Americans with ill-fated policies and rallied Democratic activists to "make sure that this time every vote is counted."
The convention greeted Gore with an enthusiastic ovation and eagerly cheered his speech lines about the 2000 election. They roared when Gore kissed his wife, Tipper, in a redux of their long embrace four years ago.
"Take it from me — every vote counts," said Gore, who won the popular vote but lost an electoral heartbreaker to George W. Bush. He urged the Democrats to remember their anger from 2000 and channel it toward electing John Kerry.
He also needled those who voted for third-party candidate Ralph Nader (search), who picked off enough votes in some states to give Bush an edge.
"Do you still believe that there was no difference between the candidates?" he asked.
Gore listed a litany of grievances against the Bush administration on the economy, the environment and Iraq.
"Wouldn't we be safer with a president who didn't insist on confusing Al Qaeda with Iraq?" Gore said in one of the first major addresses of the Democratic National Convention. The war in Iraq, he said, diverted attention from the "principal danger" posed by Al Qaeda.
"The group that attacked us and is trying to attack us again — Al Qaeda, headed by Usama bin Laden," the former vice president said.
With the Kerry's team urging speakers to go easy on the Bush-bashing, Gore couched his usual criticism in a series of pointed questions.
"I sincerely ask those watching at home who supported President Bush four years ago: Did you really get what you expected from the candidate you voted for?" Gore said.
"Is our country more united today? Or more divided?" Gore asked. "Has the promise of compassionate conservatism been fulfilled? Or do those words now ring hollow?"
Joking that he was the first American laid off during the Bush administration, Gore said Bush's economic policies drove up deficits and cost millions of jobs.
Since losing the Florida recount by 537 votes, the former vice president has appealed to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party with stinging rebukes of the Bush administration.
In speeches around the country, Gore has called Bush a "moral coward" on the environment, accused him of betraying the country by invading Iraq and condemned what he calls the president's "twisted values and atrocious policies."
Kerry's advisers urged Gore and other speakers to tone down their anti-Bush rhetoric because polls show it turns off independent voters. Firmly committed Democrats are energized by such attacks, but Kerry's strategists believe their base is already fired up — in part by memories of 2000.
But Gore had a few choice words for Bush while casting himself as the living symbol of a rallying cry for Democratic organizers: Every vote counts.
"To those of you who felt disappointed or angry with the outcome in 2000, I want you to remember all of those feelings," he said. "But then I want you to do with them what I have done: Focus them fully and completely on putting John Kerry and John Edwards (search) in the White House."
Gore, who lost votes to Nader in 2000, asked potential third-party voters whether they still think there is no difference between the two parties.
"Are you troubled by the erosion of some of America's most basic civil liberties?" he said. "Are you worried that our environmental laws are being weakened and dismantled to allow vast increases in pollution that are contributing to a global climate crisis?"
"No matter how you voted in the last election, these are profound problems that all voters must take into account this Nov. 2."
Gore, who spoke before the major networks' hour-long coverage for the night, won the popular vote in 2000 but Bush won the presidency by a single state electoral vote after a 36-day recount in Florida. Democrats have accused Republicans of denying many minorities the opportunity to vote for Gore on Election Day, then turning to a GOP-leaning Supreme Court to end the recount.
Gore, a former Tennessee senator who has been teaching at UCLA and two universities in Tennessee, has not always sided with Kerry. In December, when Kerry's candidacy was at its low point, Gore backed rival Howard Dean (search), noting that the former Vermont governor stood out from the Democratic field in his opposition to the war in Iraq.