Al Gore, the Movie, is coming soon to a theater near you. Well, maybe. But Wednesday's release of "An Inconvenient Truth," a documentary about the former vice president's crusade against global warming, has generated a wave of buzz that has set political tongues to wagging: Will he run for president again?
The liberal blogosphere is alight with chatter over a man once parodied for his stiff, pedantic style, now garnering boffo reviews for his passion and humor. Mr. Gore outshone the likes of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry at Cannes, writes the conservative-turned- progressive Arianna Huffington in her blog. On "Saturday Night Live," Gore's recent parody of himself as president - he's solved global warming and Big Oil wants a bailout - would make a good campaign ad, say the ex-veep's fans.
Gore, who lost the disputed 2000 election to President Bush, insists that after two terms as Bill Clinton's vice president and two runs for the Oval Office - he first tried in 1988 - he's done with presidential politics. In interviews, he refers to himself as a "recovering politician." But he's added a new caveat: "You always have to worry about a relapse," he recently told the Atlanta Progressive News.
Add to the mix a certain wariness from the Democrats' activist, liberal wing toward the early front-runner among potential party candidates - the centrist Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York - and there's fuel for a Draft Gore movement, if he is indeed inclined to sit out the 2008 race.
"There are a whole lot of people looking for someone willing to take on the Republicans and defend Democratic principles, and do it aggressively, in an unvarnished way, without a whole lot of positioning," says Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant based in Los Angeles. "They're looking for authenticity. Al Gore talking about global warming in this documentary, combined with being almost alone among prominent Democrats in opposing the Iraq war in the earliest stages - a lot of Democrats find that very, very attractive."
If nothing else, the kudos from the left must be a salve to Gore. After the 2000 election, he faced criticism from Democrats - including Mr. Clinton - for running a campaign many observers felt should never have been so close, given the peace and prosperity of the times. Eventually, the former senator from Tennessee, who was a founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, reemerged as a favorite of Internet-based activists, endorsing Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination in 2004 and continuing to deliver speeches sponsored by Moveon.org.
Some analysts say it's not fair to compare the non-candidate, non-officeholder Gore to Mrs. Clinton, an active legislator running for reelection and possibly higher office whose every vote and statement is parsed.
"With power comes responsibility," says Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant in Washington. "Al Gore is having fun. He has the freedom of a non-candidate."
Still, she applauds Gore for getting out there with his views. "It's great for the party to have a lot of Democrats articulating ideas," she says.
At this stage, with the party focused intently on retaking one or both houses of Congress this November, some Democratic activists prefer not to discuss publicly what the Gore chatter says about any coolness from some in the party about a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy.
"I cannot go there right now," says Gore's 2000 campaign manager, Donna Brazile, in an e-mail. "The Gore Buzz has everything to do about Al Gore and the excitement people feel about him and what he's done since 'winning the race' in 2000. Seriously, I am not into pitting this one against the other when they would make a great team - if they decide to toss their hats in the ring."
Eli Pariser, executive director of Moveon.org, also prefers to skip discussion of what Gore's rise means for Hillary Clinton. "What you're seeing with his reemergence, in an era of deep partisanship and domination of sound bites, is someone who can be a statesman and speak eloquently about most of the current issues - that really speaks to a lot of people," he says.
Still, behind a cloak of anonymity, party activists don't hesitate to opine in forums such as the National Journal Insiders Poll. In the magazine's latest poll of 138 party insiders, issued May 13, Gore moved up to fourth place among those deemed to have the best chance to win the Democratic nomination in 2008, behind Hillary Clinton, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Last December, Gore sat in ninth place. But even now, Clinton remains a formidable opponent to anyone thinking of jumping in, given her fame and fundraising ability. Of the 108 insiders who responded to the poll, 72 percent gave her first-place votes.
Still, Gore remains unique among all the others: He, too, has name recognition and big-league fundraising ability, advantages that would allow him to sit on the sidelines longer than the others.
"I don't discount Gore at all," says David Axelrod, a Democratic consultant based in Chicago. "It may not be good politics, but he's got the biggest 'I told you so' in history coming. Much of what he said in 2000 has come to pass, sadly."
Ultimately, says Mr. Axelrod, in the race for the Democratic nomination, there will be "two lanes - a Hillary lane and a Somebody Else lane, and who that other lane is, it's too soon to say."