WASHINGTON – The political team that helped Al Gore come within a few disputed ballots of the presidency cannot be counted on to help him again, a troubling omen for a former vice president contemplating a second run for the White House in 2004.
Some supporters were angry or frustrated over the loss of a close election many think they should have won, say veteran Democrats. Several close advisers have long-standing ties to potential Democratic candidates other than Gore and a few may not get involved in any campaign for personal reasons. Others lost favor with Gore.
For whatever reasons, he may not have the help of some of the party's leading strategists in 2004 — a benefit Gore enjoyed as a sitting vice president. He still has the support of a core of loyalists.
"It's significant that many in the Gore team are not signed up with him," political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said. "It reflects some uncertainty about his future prospects."
While Gore cautiously explores his options, his loyalists include: close friend and adviser Peter Knight; veteran Democratic consultant Kiki McLean, press spokeswoman; Democratic strategists Carter Eskew and Mike Feldman; Reed Hundt, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission; Katie McGinty, former head of the Council on Environmental Quality; advisers Philip Dufours, Lisa Berg and Janice Griffin.
Fund-raiser Lon Johnson and consultant Brian Hardwick have been helping with Gore's Leadership '02 political action committee, formed in early October. They said recently they are leaving at the end of the year to manage congressional campaigns, though Gore associates say they hope to lure them back after 2002.
Johnson will return home to Michigan to run the re-election campaign of Rep. John Dingell. Hardwick is going to Colorado to manage the campaign of Democrat Tom Strickland in his try for the U.S. Senate.
Some high-profile consultants on the fence:
• Michael Whouley, a senior adviser to the campaign with longtime ties to Gore and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is already organizing for a possible 2004 run. Whouley has moved back to Boston and probably will be courted heavily by both camps.
• Tad Devine and Bob Shrum, two top advertising consultants in the Gore campaign, have long-standing relationships with North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as well as Gore and many other veteran Democratic politicians. Many Democrats say their firm has a very close link to Edwards, but they indicate they have kept their options open.
• Donna Brazile, Gore's campaign manager, says she plans to remain uncommitted for now for the 2004 campaign. Brazile, a prominent black Democratic consultant, will be heavily courted for her get-out-the-vote abilities and strong connections in the black community.
• Ron Klain, a Washington attorney, was a top adviser in the Gore campaign and managed the legal operation in the Florida recount. Democrats say Klain also has ties with Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
"There's a lot of maneuvering, but not a lot of signing up," Democratic consultant James Carville said. "I'm sure there's a lot of people saying: `Keep your powder dry, don't do anything until you talk to me."'
It is too early for any of the 2000 campaign operatives to sign on formally with a candidate. Still, plenty of signals are sent — just in case.
Potential candidates such as Gore, Kerry, Edwards, House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman are laying the groundwork in case they decide to run.
Gore's state campaign chairman in New York in 2000, Robert Zimmerman, said Washington insiders sometimes place too much importance on the movement of consultants and strategists. Primaries, he said, are won by "the activists, the organizers and the network of contributors around the country who feel a very personal commitment."
Gore's former campaign chairman, investment banker William Daley, is moving to a top post at a regional telephone company, but says he would be supportive of future Gore efforts. Elaine Kamarck, a senior policy adviser who teaches at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, also plans to stick with Gore.
Donnie Fowler, who headed the Gore campaign's state operations, is managing political relations for a high-tech executives organization in California. Fowler says he does not know his political plans, but if he gets involved in a campaign for 2004, he says: "I believe you dance with the one that brung you."