With Al Gore out of the 2004 presidential horse race, all eyes are on the Democratic stable. Despite being an also-ran, Mr. Gore had remained a show horse for the party, especially during the recent midterm elections. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll conducted a week ago found 39 percent of Democratic voters favoring Gore for '04. Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts was a distant second at 13 percent, with others trailing in the single digits. Now, Democrats will be looking more carefully at the following leaders who have trotted around early primary states and the media.
Sen. majority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Sen. Daschle has served in Congress since 1978, first in the House, then the Senate. His days as majority leader are numbered, following the 2002 elections that will give Republicans control of the Senate in January. If Daschle does run, he could face blame for having "lost" the Senate. While Daschle has a soft-spoken manner, many agree with Sen. Robert Byrd's assessment that he has "steel in his spine." As the top-ranking Democrat in Washington since President Bush took office, he has had to fight to keep a Democratic agenda alive. Mostly this has involved mitigating what he says are the extremes of Republican legislation.
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Mr. Dean, currently the longest-serving Democratic governor in the US, has already announced that he is seeking the party nomination. He has staked out several high-profile, left-wing positions on issues, such as support for universal health care and civil unions for gays. Yet, he also claims the mantle of fiscal conservativism. So far he has campaigned as an outsider with populist appeal.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. A former trial lawyer, Sen. Edwards is a relative newcomer to politics. He ran for the Senate in 1998, having held no previous office, and won. Ever since, there has been speculation that he could be a contender for higher office due to his debating skills, sudden rise to prominence, and ability to win in the South. However, opponents might make hay out of his career as a trial lawyer. He may have to spend time convincing people he is more like Erin Brockovich than a local 1-800-ACCIDENT lawyer.
House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. Rep. Gephardt was first elected to the House in 1976 and rose to majority leader in 1989. Ever since 1994, when Republicans captured control of the House, Gephardt has worked as minority leader to recapture the body. Shortly after House Republicans made gains in the 2002 elections, Gephardt stepped aside as leader - possibly to clear his schedule for a bid at the presidency. Gephardt sought the presidency before, in 1988. He comes from the traditional wing of the Democratic party (as opposed to New Democrats), and has strong connections to organized labor.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. A decorated Vietnam veteran who later joined the peace movement, Sen. Kerry has built strong credentials in the area of foreign policy. Kerry has formed an exploratory committee for a 2004 presidential campaign, and is polling higher than other potential candidates. While he has supported NAFTA and balanced budget measures, Kerry may have to battle a perception that he is extremely liberal simply because of geography and proximity. He has served as Massachusetts' lieutenant governor under Michael Dukakis and junior senator under Ted Kennedy since 1984. Apparently, he also windsurfs.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Sen. Lieberman vaulted to national notoriety when Al Gore chose him as his running mate in 2000. He would have been the first Jewish vice president. Since the 2000 election, Lieberman has maintained a high profile in the Senate and in New Hampshire, fueling speculation that he would run in 2004. He has stated that he would not run if Al Gore decided to run again. With Gore out, Lieberman appears ready to join the race. Lieberman is a conservative Democrat, especially on "family values" issues. He has been a tough critic of Hollywood.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a controversial New York political activist, has also indicated his interest in running. Other names that have been floated include Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, and former NATO commander Wesley Clark.
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