The former vice president recently assembled more than two dozen of his biggest campaign donors for a thank-you dinner party at the home of a big-shot Manhattan financieron the night of the new president’s first address to Congress, no less.
The hometown, satellite version of Gore thanking his political coterie now has begun here in earnest.
“He’s just trying, I think, to say to people personally that he appreciated the help they’ve given him over the years and to let them know that he’s looking forward to spending more time in Tennessee and updating them on what he’s doing,” says local attorney Charles Bone, who hosted a relatively intimate afternoon reception for the vice president-turned-professor last week at the law offices of Wyatt Tarrant & Combs.
“It was a lot of fun. He said that he was having some problems getting around, that he didn’t understand why people were still driving on the interstate when he’s trying to get around town,” Bone says, referring to Gore’s humorous acknowledgment that during his vice-presidential visits to Nashville, local motorists found themselves interminably parked on the interstates, hostages to his Secret Service protection.
Bone says that, so far, the political herdings have been intended primarily for longtime donors. The reception at Wyatt Tarrant & Combs and a recent gathering at the home of Democratic state Rep. Stratton Bone of Lebanon (who is no relation) have been “very lighthearted, just totally in the form of friends getting together and just an opportunity to visit.”
Both of those events were more specifically tailored toward supporters who have been behind Gore since his first political run for Congress in 1976. And, Charles Bone says, there are more events to come in and around Nashville. “The fact that somebody didn’t get invited to one of these would not mean that they’d been left off the list,” he says, reassuring other political patrons of the former vice president that they may well yet get a beckoning in the mailbox.
According to a recent New York Times story about such events in the Big Apple, “The purpose of the event and others that are planned in coming weeks, Mr. Gore’s associates said, was to court these important fund-raisers and put them on noticewithout saying so explicitlythat they should not defect to other prospective contenders [for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination].”
Gore’s walking that difficult line, staying close to the people he desperately needs without looking, as the Times put it, “brazenly political.”
While there doesn’t seem to be any doubt within the national media that Gore plans another presidential run, no one, of course, can read his mind. For his part, Charles Bone says he asked Gore, “What are you thinking?”
“He said, ‘I don’t know yet what I’m thinking.’ I think that’s easy to understand.”
Out of a job
Lots of locals and Gore intimates have lost the influence that accompanies associating with arguably the second most powerful man in the world, which is all the more reason Gore has done well to stage these thank-you gatherings. But Gore’s loss hit one Smyrna native and Vanderbilt graduate particularly hard.
Two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court cut off the vote counts, Roy Neel, who was running Gore’s would-be transition operation and who served as president of the United States Telephone Association (one of Washington’s most powerful trade groups), was asked to resign from the nearly $600,000-a-year job.
As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Neel’s resignation capped a rise and fall that mirrored” Gore’s own. Neel followed Gore, a friend of nearly 30 years, from Tennessee to Washington, first as a Gore aide in Congress and the White House, and later as President Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.
As the Journal put it, “The trade group’s maneuvering illustrates the flip side of the Washington influence game: If you lose your influence, you may find yourself out of a job as well.”
John Mark Windle, the state representative who was the subject of last week’s column, was unfairly maligned: He’s from Livingston, not Cookeville. And as one of the youth group members who inspired Windle’s “In God We Trust” legislation has pointed out to the Scene, many of those youthful churchgoers are college students and, therefore, registered voters. That dilutes our advice to Windle last week, in which we said that if he’s going to pander, he ought to do it with registered voters.
That much the lawmaker apparently knows.
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