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Gore steps back onstage at Vanderbilt workshop

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Eight months after conceding the presidential race, former Vice President Al Gore took a small step back on the public stage Saturday at a Vanderbilt University political workshop.

Gore and former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, a former Republican presidential contender, co-sponsored a forum aimed at getting young adults involved in the political process. The event drew about 50 attendees, evenly divided by party affiliation.

"We wanted to do this together to inspire these young people in both political parties to get more involved and more active," Gore said. "It's been a really great discussion."

The seminar was closed to reporters, and Gore aides downplayed characterizations of his participation as a return to the active political stage. But speaking before reporters, Gore himself made it clear he intends to maintain a political presence.

"Everybody in the room there is going to be involved in the 2002 elections for their respective candidates and parties -- me included," he said.

Column: Can Al Gore come back?  

Gore did not elaborate. Neither did Donna Brazile, his former campaign manager.

"If you look at the recent polls, if the election were held tomorrow, the American people are still split down the middle between Al Gore and George Bush," Brazile said. "So I think he's used this time wisely to rest and reflect and get ready for the future."

Starting Monday, Gore will participate in training sessions for about 25 young Democrats, teaching them campaign skills that they will then use in campaigns across the country.

Since President Bush took office in January, Gore has remained out of the spotlight: He taught a journalism class at Columbia University, grew a beard and gained a few pounds.

Some Democrats have complained that he should have taken a more prominent role in criticizing Bush's policies -- particularly on environmental issues -- but other analysts believe that would have been a mistake.

"If he had been on stage making a lot of public speeches against Bush's moves, like on the environment and other things, he'd have come under a lot of criticism for sour grapes," said John Geer, a Vanderbilt political science professor.

--CNN National Correspondent Mike Boettcher contributed to this report.

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