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Gore ends silence, rejoins 'national debate'

Former VP says he hasn't decided on 2004

By Greg Botelho

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- More than a year after conceding the presidential election, Al Gore ended his self-imposed political silence Saturday, criticizing the Bush administration and touting his favorite issues in a speech to fellow Tennessee Democrats.

"For everything there is a season," the former vice president told a friendly crowd at the state Democratic party's kickoff to the 2002 election season. "And tonight, as this new election season opens, I intend to rejoin the national debate."

Shortly before the keynote speech, Gore pledged to help Democratic candidates and train young leaders in the coming months, but said he had yet to decide whether he will run for president again in 2004.

"I am not going to announce that tonight," Gore told CNN. "I have not made up my mind yet."

But the two-term vice president made it clear Saturday that he has returned to the political fold, eager to promote his causes, support Democrats and challenge the White House.

"If you're concerned that the present administration will go too far -- and I think they already have -- the best thing you can do is not wait until 2004, but elect Democrats in 2002," Gore said.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore says he "intends to rejoin the national debate" and sounds very much like a presidential candidate. CNN's Candy Crowley reports (February 3)

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The former Tennessee senator also called Saturday's event, as well as recent teaching stints at Middle Tennessee State and Fisk University, another chance to "mend some fences" in his home state, as he promised to do in his December 13, 2000, concession speech.

Bush narrowly defeated Gore in Tennessee to win its 11 electoral votes -- enough to propel him to the overall victory following a lengthy legal battle over Florida's electors.

Gore: Bush policies 'not working'

Sporting a trimmed beard and speaking comfortably Saturday night, Gore reiterated his support for Bush in his fight against terrorism and lauded fellow Democrats for shedding party loyalties and backing the president.

Gore then focused on several issues that were central to his 2000 campaign: the economy, environment and campaign finance.

Claiming he and President Bill Clinton "made the right decisions" on the economy, Gore said, "It is now clear that our nation's present economy policy is not working."

He blamed the Bush administration for the present recession, evaporation of the projected $4 trillion surplus and cuts in job training, school construction and health care.

"We need a government that lives within its means, invests in the American people and supports tax cuts for the people who need tax cuts," Gore said.

The 2000 Democratic presidential nominee struck a similar tone on the environment, criticizing the White House for rolling back pollution standards, abandoning the Kyoto treaty on global warming and promoting oil drilling in Alaska and the Great Lakes.

Yet the most important issue facing America today, Gore contended, was campaign finance reform.

"Recent events have made it clear that this reform is needed more than ever," Gore said, alluding to charges that bankrupt energy giant Enron -- one of the biggest corporate donors to Bush's presidential campaign -- improperly influenced the White House's energy policy.

"The facts are these: Overwhelmingly, the American people want campaign finance reform. The special interests do not."


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