WASHINGTON — There are many reasons for Al Gore not to run for president again.
First, the Democratic field is already well stocked with candidates, and, more important, Democratic voters are happy with their choices. Second, if he were to announce, the former vice president and Oscar-winning climate change uber activist would immediately descend from his celebrity perch and revive all the old criticisms of his campaign style (usually described as stiff and pedantic) and failed presidential effort in 2000.
Another downside to jumping back into presidential politics: no more big-bucks speeches. Since retiring from politics, Mr. Gore has become a wealthy man. He may be loath to return to the days of dialing for dollars – a practice that once landed him in considerable hot water.
But the much-ballyhooed return of Gore to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to deliver testimony on global warming,could not help but revive the 2008 question: Will he run? He has his ardent supporters. And polls continue to show him scoring well in the Democratic nomination race, even as a noncandidate.
A March 9-11 CNN survey of registered Democrats showed Gore in third place with 14 percent, behind Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York (37 percent) and Barack Obama of Illinois (22 percent), and in a statistical tie with former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina (12 percent).
One surefire way to tell if Gore really is thinking of jumping in is to watch his girth – i.e., if it starts shrinking – political observers quip. (Though some raise the counterargument that a less-than-slim Gore makes him look real, and not "overly managed," and that would help average Americans relate to him.)
Gore himself insists he "has no plans" to run. But he always leaves that kernel of doubt. Wittingly or not, it may be helping the global-warming cause he has held dear since his days as a member of the House.
"I think, in the end, he is right now not planning on running, and you take him at his word," says John Geer, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. But "he may decide at some point down the road that he will run. He's keeping the window open, because the context could change."
The unprecedentedly early start to the 2008 presidential campaign means that the public could tire of the candidates currently out there running. In particular, in the top tier, Senators Clinton and Obama are in a bruising fight, and that could breed some dissatisfaction with their supporters.
"It's also true that even if people stay satisfied with their options, Gore's entry would transform the race," says Mr. Geer.
On Iraq, the No. 1 issue of public concern, Gore has been a high-profile critic of the war from the start, unlike Clinton. Obama, too, opposed the war from the start, but at the time he was just an Illinois state senator.
On the plus side for Gore, unlike just about anyone else who may jump into the Democratic nomination race late, he has a ready-made network of donors and strategists and could likely be competitive financially and organizationally with the other top-tier candidates. Of course, some of his network overlaps with that of the wife of the former president under whom Gore served, and so a Gore run would unleash an internecine battle like no other in the Democratic ranks.
But on Capitol Hill Wednesday, the topic was all climate change, where the former congressman and senator from Tennessee warned of looming catastrophe if immediate action is not taken. Since the Demo-cratic takeover of Congress earlier this year, members have introduced a raft of legislation aimed at reducing carbon and other emissions.
"I want to testify today about what I believe is a planetary emergency – a crisis that threatens the survival of our civilization and the habitability of the Earth," Gore told a joint hearing of two House committees. "The consequences are mainly negative and headed toward catastrophe unless we act."
He added that he believed it was not too late to address climate change. The film "An Inconvenient Truth" about Gore's crusade won the Academy Award for best documentary last month.
The last time Gore appeared in the Capitol was in 2001, when he presided over the certification of his December 2000 loss to George W. Bush in the Electoral College. That disputed election result remains a painful memory for Democrats, and some party activists blame Gore for not winning easily during a time of peace and prosperity – and in particular, losing in his home state of Tennessee.