Al Gore’s speech to Demo-crats in Iowa last weekend was meant to be his return to active politics, but the attack on the World Trade Center made the whole thing too trivialand even Gore, with his sometimes unsure political instincts, knew better than to start campaigning openly again. The tip-off? He still has his beard.
Gore gave Democratic activists in Iowa a low-key speech in which he expressed his support for President Bush’s handling of the current crisis. He also spent part of the weekend meeting with old supporters as he tries to keep his organization together for what will probably be another run in 2004.
Iowa is the traditional first-in-the-nation caucus state, and nobody goes there for anything except presidential politics. Gore wisely chose to take some time off after the traumatic conclusion to last year’s election, and was planning to restart with the Iowa appearance. Given the way things are going, Gore probably will think in terms of slowly insinuating himself back into the political dialogue, rather than coming out swinging. But when he finally shows up somewhere without that beard, you can take that as the announcement of candidacy.
Today’s Jesse Jackson
One of the headaches looming for Al Gore as he contemplates his rematch is the Rev. Al Sharpton, the flamboyant black leader from New York who’s thinking about a run for the presidency in the style of Jesse Jackson’s bids in 1984 and 1988. While Gore has been having trouble keeping his money people together, Sharpton is a problem from a different anglestriking at his strongest constituency. Gore did well in the primaries and general election among black voters, and they would probably be one of his bedrock foundations for building a new nomination coalition. A successful campaign by Sharpton could siphon those votes away.
Of course, there’s also the question of what would constitute a “successful” race by Sharpton. A Sharpton candidacy would appear to be targeted at demonstrating black unitya powerful sentiment growing out of the Jackson campaigns that had the secondary effect of diminishing black influence on the actual outcome. The campaigns may not have been a great triumph for black votersafter all, the Democrats ended up nominating the hapless, technocratic Michael Dukakisbut they were a triumph for Jackson, who validated his position as America’s foremost black leader.
Nobody would take seriously the prospect of Sharpton winning the nomination, but a strong showing might do the same thing for him. Sharpton represents a successor generation of African American leadership, of which he is probably the best known, but his appeal is still primarily regional. A presidential campaign might help him break out beyond that. So far he has formed an “exploratory committee.”
Within his home base, Sharpton’s clout was demonstrated this week with the victory of Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer in the New York Democratic mayoral primary. Ferrer had been languishing in the back of the field until Sharpton endorsed him in late August as part of an effort to create a black-Latino coalition. Ferrer faces a primary runoff with another contender, Mark Green.
Although Sharpton is the kind of leader who makes an easy target for talk radio rants, he has shown surprising resilience and strength in the black community.
Praise for Purcell
The encomiums have started pouring in for Mayor Bill Purcell, who is now halfway through his four-year term. The praise has been well deserved, as Purcell has focused on management issues and delivered on the basic themes of his campaign with a well-targeted spending package approved with surprisingly little dissent by the Metro Council. Nobody has even started talking about opposing Purcell for reelection yet, which is surprising, since such talk is usually cheap this far in front of an election.
But there are perhaps two constituencies that might represent a power base for a challenger.
One is the city’s teachers. Metro Nashville Education Association president Harry McMackin actually blasted Purcell over the weekend for not doing enough to raise teacher pay. The charge is pretty flimsy, as Purcell stepped out in his last tax increase with substantial money for teacher raises.
More troublesome might be the alienation of the business community. In an effort to underscore his focus on neighborhoods, Purcell has fairly pointedly turned his nose up at the issues the bizpigs are interested inwhich he can probably get away with. While Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce officials and downtown developers and merchants have been biting their nails over the tourism slump and office vacancy rates, among other issues, Purcell has declared that downtown is healthy. As well, fully five days after the terrorist attacks, Purcell told The Tennessean that no one had even mentioned the economy to him and that he wasn’t thinking about it. Instead, he praised a declaration by the Metro Human Relations Commission decrying racist rhetoric.
More threatening to the mayor might be general malaise. In his first reelection campaign in 1979, Richard Fulton found himself nearly forced into a runoff by a nobody named Dan Power. Fulton, notably, had the same kind of chilly relationship with the business community that Purcell does now, and subsequently made more of an effort to get along. As a result, he was probably more successful as mayor during his next two terms.
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