Dems Say Gore's Presidential Bid Ruined by Populist Message

By Brian Hansen

WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2001 (ENS) - Al Gore, the self-styled environmental candidate in the 2000 Presidential election, lost his bid for the White House because he campaigned on an outdated "populist" platform that was too liberal for most Americans, according to a new report drafted by the Democratic Leadership Council.

The report, titled "Why Gore Lost, And How Democrats Can Come Back," was unveiled this morning by Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) officials at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. The DLC's 40 page report concludes that the Democratic Party must move towards the political right - towards the Republicans - if it wants to regain control of Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004.


Democrat Al Gore, who ran on an environmental platform, lost his bid for the White House because he cast himself as a liberal, concludes a new report released by the Democratic Leadership Council (Photo courtesy Office of Vice President Al Gore)

Al From, the DLC's founder and CEO, opened the freewheeling discussion forum this morning by arguing that Democrat Al Gore made a huge tactical mistake by continually emphasizing that he would "fight for the people and not the powerful" as the nation's first president of the 21st Century.

"Gore chose a populist rather than a new Democrat message, and as a result, voters viewed him as too liberal and identified him as an advocate of big government," From said. "By emphasizing class warfare, [Gore] seemed to be talking to industrial age rather than information age America."

From said that in order to be successful in future elections, the Democratic Party needs to forge a "new progressive majority for the information age."

Such a coalition, From said, must "expand beyond the Democratic base" that was borne out of the progressive movements that arose during the first half of the 20th Century. The Democratic Party, From said, must reach out to moderates "and even some conservatives" if it hopes to regain power in Washington.

"Al Gore failed to put together such a new progressive coalition," From said. "The result [was] what should have been a comfortable Gore victory became a virtual tie."


The extraordinary 2000 presidential election was a virtual dead heat between Gore and Republican George W. Bush, the two term governor of Texas. Though Gore narrowly won the popular vote, the two term Vice President lost the electoral college count, and thus, the White House.

While experts have attributed Gore's loss to a host of factors, much of the attention was focused on the state of Florida, where the vote count was debated for weeks in the courts. In a controversial move, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately halted all recount efforts in the state, leaving Bush with a razor thin margin of victory that propelled him into the White House.

Despite lingering allegations that Gore, in fact, carried the state of Florida, the election should not have been so close, said From.

"Given the fundamental conditions in the country, the outstanding record of the Clinton/Gore administration and the Vice President's own record of achievement, I believe Al Gore should have won a solid victory," said From, noting that a host of political science models projected that Gore would prevail by some 10 percentage points.


Gore, right, on a campaign stop with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the number two man on the Democratic Party's 2000 Presidential ticket. Lieberman is the current chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. (Photo courtesy Gore/Lieberman 2000)

From noted that Gore lost every income category of voters who earned more than $50,000 a year - the most rapidly growing part of the American electorate. Moreover, Gore lost middle class voters by one percent, and upper class voters by an even wider margin, From said.

Gore carried "moderate" bloc voters by eight points, but that was not nearly enough to offset Bush's margins elsewhere, From said. Bill Clinton, From noted, won moderate bloc voters by a whopping 24 points in 1996.


From rejected the argument that the so called "populist" message was vindicated by adding Gore's vote total to that compiled by Ralph Nader, the insurgent Green Party Presidential Candidate. Nader, vilified as a "spoiler" by many DLC Democrats, won about three percent of the popular vote nationwide and more than 97,000 votes in the state of Florida - more than enough to have won the White House for Gore.


Ralph Nader, Green Party Candidate in the 2000 Presidential election (Photo courtesy Nader 2000)

From said that a combined Gore/Nader vote total does not justify the soundness of the populist message, which he said was crafted to evoke an unrealistic and imagined "specter of class warfare."

"The assertion that Nader's marginal vote count hurt Gore is not borne out by polling data," From wrote in the DLC's report. "When exit pollers asked voters how they would have voted in a two-way race, Bush actually won by a point. That was better than he did with Nader in the race."

Nader, a Harvard educated attorney and a nationally known consumer advocate, was especially critical during his campaign of the power that corporations now wield over American citizens and the American political system. He blasted then Texas Governor Bush as "nothing but a big corporation disguised as a person running for President."


President George W. Bush (Photo courtesy Office of the President)

But Nader was no kinder towards Gore, who he repeatedly attacked on a host of issues - including the environment. Nader campaigned on the theme that were would be virtually no difference between Gore and Bush in terms of their respective environmental policies - a move that infuriated the nation's major conservation organizations.


Nader, who has long blamed the DLC for "abandoning" the Democratic Party's progressive roots, looked on with interest today as From and other DLC officials talked about what went wrong in the 2000 election. Asked why he thought Gore had lost the election, Nader quipped, "He didn't lose. He really didn't lose. The real question is, 'Why wasn't he more victorious than he was?'"

Nader said that Gore "didn't project authenticity" during the campaign, and that he "didn't project conviction and take a real stand" on issues that mattered to American citizens.

"He talked populism in a very general way, but he never filled the blanks in," Nader said.

"They're not getting the message," Nader said of the DLC, which has become the prominent wing of the Democratic Party. "The message today is you've got to be more like Republicans and take away their issues."

Nader maintains that for the most part, the environmental initiatives that will be undertaken by Bush will not be substantially different from those that would have been put forth had Gore ascended to the White House. Spencer Abraham, Bush's new Energy Secretary, "cannot do worse than Al Gore did by giving the auto companies eight years holiday from fuel efficiency standards," Nader told ENS.

A Gore Presidency would have made little difference in terms of biotechnology issues, pesticides and herbicides, and environmentally unsound trade policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Nader added.

Nader acknowledged, however, that "there is a difference" between the two parties regarding public lands issues. The Democrats, Nader said, do not share the public lands views advocated by Gale Norton, Bush's nominee for Interior Secretary.

Still, Nader told ENS that he harbors no regrets about his entry into the presidential race, explaining that "our goal was a long range political reform movement, and you build that in steps. It doesn't come overnight."

Nader said that the Green Party will provide millions of disaffected progressive voters with a "political home," and he promised a "geometric increase" in the number of candidates that the insurgent party will run in coming elections.


That is exactly what worries Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat from Illinois and one of the most progressive lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Jackson, in an exclusive interview, told ENS that he "could not disagree more" with the DLC's assertion that Al Gore's failed presidential bid means that the Democratic Party needs to move to the political right.


Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.(Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman)

"Their comments appear to be ahistorical, and ignore a significant reality in this past election," Jackson said. "The present DLC attitude and disposition as evidenced by the [report] ... will only strengthen the Green Party in 2002 and 2004, and will therefore spell certain national disaster for the Democratic Party once again."

Jackson blamed the DLC for pushing policies such as NAFTA and the passage of Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China, both of which he said strengthened Nader's position in the past election. Conservation groups were largely united in their condemnation of those initiatives, maintaining that they would foster an economic "race to the bottom" that would lead to widespread environmental degradation.

"Almost all of [the DNC's arguments] appear to ignore the reality that Ralph Nader did well in Florida, and that he did well in a number of other states," Jackson said. "So it was not Al Gore's populist message that did him in, but it was the proven history and legacy of conservative democrats that created a split within the Democratic party that manifested itself in the Nader campaign."

Asked if a combined Gore/Nader vote count was indicative of a hidden "populist majority" in the country, Jackson said, "I think it represents an electoral victory, but I'm not totally convinced that it represents a progressive majority - and there is a difference."


Jackson said that both the Democratic and Republican Parties are "right of center" in terms of their appeal to the nation's population as a whole. More than 100 million eligible voters, he said, neglected to go to the polls on election day because "the political options afforded to Americans were right of center" in the campaign.

That is why Jackson sponsored a Congressional resolution to allow Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader to participate in the Presidential debates, he said.

"I thought [Nader] had a very important voice that was being locked out of the process," Jackson said. "Given Mr. Gore's performance in the debates, and given Mr. Bush's intellectual capacity, maybe the most thoughtful person in the debates might have been Ralph Nader."

Not one of Jackson's 534 colleagues on Capitol Hill signed on to his resolution to allow Nader into the debates. Nader filed a lawsuit against the corporate sponsored debate commission after he was denied permission to observe the first round in Boston, even though he maintained that he had a valid ticket to attend the event.

"Nader in debates would have brought the country closer to the real political center," Jackson said. "The millions of people who did not vote might have heard something different than what they were hearing from Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush."

Jackson decried the conservative DLC Democrats who are "rushing to the illusion of bipartisanship" with Bush and the Republicans on Capitol Hill. It is that conservative bipartisan coalition, he said, that allows Nader to say that the nation has "one corporate party with two different names."

"They're giving the country the illusion of bipartisanship, but the reality is that millions of Americans ... are greatly disenchanted, disturbed and disappointed with Mr. Bush's election and his cabinet choices so far," Jackson said.

"Mr. Bush has not reached out the Congressional Black Caucus, or to the Progressive Caucus, or to the left wing of the Democratic Party," Jackson said. "And it's going to require two wings to fly."

Jackson told ENS that he plans to undertake a number of actions during this Congressional session to advance a progressive agenda, including introducing a Constitutional amendment designed to ensure a clean, safe and sustainable environment for all Americans.

The full text of the DLC's "Why Gore Lost" report is available on the organization's website at: