Gore's quest to take back Tennessee
By Greg Botelho
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Fifteen months after suffering a humiliating and ultimately decisive defeat in his home state, former Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore returned to Tennessee this Saturday to announce his own return to politics.
The question is, Do the people of America -- and Tennessee -- want him back?
When Gore announced his plans to "rejoin the national debate" after a 13-month self-imposed exile from politics, the hundreds attending this weekend's Tennessee Democratic Party's fund raiser responded with a rousing applause.
But the verdict on the streets of Nashville, and even among some attending Saturday's event, was not as resounding.
Even Gore admitted he must improve his standing in Tennessee, where Republican nominee George W. Bush garnered 51 percent of the state's votes to win the state's 11 electoral votes in November 2000.
While the final outcome was not decided until Gore conceded Florida's electors to Bush the following month, another Gore win in any other state -- including Tennessee -- would have made him the nation's 43rd president.
"I understand there's a lot more work for me to do here [in Tennessee] -- more fences that need mending," Gore said Saturday night, referring to his December 13, 2000, concession speech.
"But it's work I am looking forward to, because … I am committed, heart and soul, to the people of this great state."
Many voters noticed how Bush campaigned heavily in Tennessee in the 2000 presidential campaign while Gore did not.
"People forget where they came from, they get too comfortable," Tina Finley of Clarenceville, Tennessee, said of Gore's approach to his home state that year.
This perception, combined with Gore's eight years representing a national rather than a local constituency, fueled some voters' belief that Gore was a Washington insider and Tennessee outsider.
"He lost his roots, and a lot of people feel disconnected from him," said Mitchell Queener, a 23-year-old Republican from Nashville.
Even Democrats, like Tony Hall of Dickson County, Tennessee, said Gore "lost touch with his constituency" in Tennessee and could be challenged to win them back.
"He's got to get aggressive to reach the majority," Hall said. "He's got to get with the issues, and get back to his roots."
Gore said he has traveled extensively around Tennessee "reconnecting with [friends] and making some new ones" -- all part of his quest to win back Tennessee, where he and his father, Albert Gore Sr., were popular during their days as U.S. senators.
Still, publicly and officially, he has kept a low profile since relinquishing the vice presidency a year ago.
He has refused to comment publicly on the 2000 election, on Bush or on almost any political issue, not addressing the press except for two statements expressing support for Bush and promoting national unity following the September 11 attacks.
Even Saturday, when he discussed the environment, economy and campaign finance and criticized the Bush administration for the first time, Gore still did not talk to the media, except to say he had not decided whether he will run again for president in 2004.
But Gore will address the press and the people soon, said Jano Cabrera, communications director for Gore's newly formed political action committee that will raise money to train young leaders and help Democratic candidates.
"After a year of silence, Al Gore is back," Cabrera said. "He's going to focus on national campaigns and issues, but he wanted to start here in Tennessee."
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