WASHINGTON — Several leading Democrats saw their prospects shrink in the disaster of the midterm election. Richard Gephardt gave up the leadership of the House Democrats. Tom Daschle is being reduced from majority to minority leader of the Senate. Walter Mondale, defeated in his Senate comeback bid, returns to political retirement.
If any Democrat can be said to have benefited from the Democratic shambles, it is another former vice president - Al Gore. Mr. Gore, who has said he may decide in December whether to run for president again, spent the campaign basically doing two things. He piled up political chits by stumping widely for Democratic candidates from Maine to Florida. And he delivered a couple of major speeches, in San Francisco and in Washington, attacking administration policy on Iraq and on the economy in stronger terms than most congressional Democrats.
After Gore's economic speech at the Brookings Institution on Oct. 2, denouncing Bush tax and spending policies, I asked him how he saw his current role in the Democratic Party. He replied, "A lot of the most important issues don't seem to be discussed very much and I think that they need to be." This sounded to me like veiled criticism of congressional Democrats for their timidity about confronting a popular wartime president.
Postelection analysis indicates that Gore may have had a point. "Me-tooism," such as Mr. Gephardt's embrace of the war powers resolution, and other Democrats' ambiguity on the subject did not help candidates very much. Since the election, Gore has given an interview to Barbara Walters of ABC in which he was more explicit about charting a new course for the Democratic Party. He said: "Democrats have to be the loyal opposition in fact and not just in name. Democrats should not mistake the magnitude of this loss. There has to be a major regrouping. I mean, taking a hard look at how we can talk about the real-life concerns that families in this country are wrestling with every day and present a very forceful alternative."
Gore says he has yet to decide about seeking a rematch with Bush in 2004. But why would he want to remake the Democratic Party unless he hoped to be its candidate?
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.