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Dems: Kerry Better Than Gore

Al Gore (search) may have been cheered when he addressed the crowd Monday night, but a strong sentiment lingering throughout this year's Democratic National Convention is that the 2000 presidential candidate failed the party in the last election.

An undisguised disappointment in Gore, however, is frequently muted by enthusiasm for John Kerry (search), whose success in his presidential bid will be in part attributable to the fact that he is doing things very differently from Gore, according to many delegates who spoke to FOXNews.com.

While Gore warned from the convention stage on Monday that Democrats must "make sure that this time every vote is counted,” several activists who spoke to FOXNews.com did not blame his 2000 defeat on vote-counting problems in Florida. Rather, they found fault in the former vice president for running a campaign that did not reach out beyond the Democratic base.

Although Bill Clinton won several Southern states in 1992 and 1996, Gore lost every single state in Dixie, including his native Tennessee. Kerry operatives and party activists were not shy about explaining why this happened.

For instance, Gore only visited Virginia’s wealthy Washington suburbs to fill his campaign war chest, said Virginia Democrat Susan Swecker. Kerry has stumped across the state, and visited it multiple times, most recently stopping in Norfolk on Day Two of the convention.

“John Kerry has been in Virginia four times in the last month,” Swecker, director of Kerry operations in Virginia, said, noting that he was in Norfolk on Tuesday. "He is a well-known entity in Virginia.” Kerry would run better than Gore, who left the state virtually uncontested, she said.

A sign things may be changing in Virginia, which supported George W. Bush in 2000, is that “in the past we’ve had national Democrats that our local leaders didn’t want to be aligned with. We don’t have that this time,” Swecker said.

Kerry is not only trying to peel off a couple of states that went for President Bush in 2000, but is campaigning throughout the traditionally red-for-Republican region.

“The emphasis Kerry-Edwards is putting on the South is a recognition that we need different math than we did in 2000,” said North Carolinian Ed Turlington, who managed John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

“Kerry-Edwards is running a different campaign than I’ve seen in years,” he said, citing the fact that the campaign hired local leaders rather than relying on outside operatives.

Activists organizing ethnic groups like Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans made no attempt to hide their disappointment with Gore in 2000 or their delight that the party has turned a new page by choosing Kerry as the presidential candidate.

“The Kerry camp is light-years ahead of Gore,” said Polish-American Marilyn Piurek, secretary for the National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council (search). Unlike Gore, Kerry has a substantial and highly effective staff, she said. When Piurek invited Gore to a Polish-American event, he RSVP’d, but failed to show up or even send regrets. “Gore doesn’t show up, and that sends a huge message.”

Brian O’Dwyer, president of the National Democratic Ethnic Leadership Council (search), slammed the Gore campaign for failing to seek out ethnics’ support. He said he was not dropping a bombshell at the convention, but rather makes this critique frequently.

“Given the closeness of the race, I think it could be reasonably said that the [2000] election was lost because there was not an outpouring of support from the ethnics. That’s not our fault. That’s the fault of the Gore campaign,” O’Dwyer said.

Homosexuals are strong Democrats, but many are unhappy with Kerry’s failure to push for gay marriage. Still, they praise the Kerry campaign’s efforts to connect with them, saying they feel very welcome at the convention.

“My impression is that this is the first time it has been so organized,” Patricia Todd, a delegate from Alabama, said in reference to the convention's outreach to gays.

Hispanics are also traditionally Democratic, but in 2000 George W. Bush made serious inroads with this growing portion of the electorate. Analysts like Adam J. Segal, director of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University (search), said that Bush’s outreach to Hispanics was one of the keys to winning Florida and ultimately the White House.

While the Republican Party gained ground with Hispanics, the Democratic Party, with Gore at the helm, took a step backwards. The party failed to push hard enough in states that have growing Hispanic populations, said Simon Rosenberg, founder and president of the New Democrat Network (search), a private group founded during the Clinton administration to support centrist Democratic candidates.

While Gore's campaign has been called disastrous, his support for Kerry may be useful.

"I think he brings a wealth of experience, especially this last campaign," said Maine Delegate Mark Oullette. He said that Gore could join vice presidential candidate John Edwards in speaking to swing voters.

They "are going to make a potent team," Oullette said of Kerry and Edwards.

Still, some convention-goers said they doubt Gore will have much impact helping Kerry on the campaign trail.

"In terms of attracting constituencies that aren't hard-core, I don't think he plays to them," said convention volunteer Haley, who declined to give her last name.