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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Gore says his is cautionary tale

His narrow 2000 defeat -- and the consequences -- illustrate what's at stake this election, he tells the crowd.

August 29, 2008|Noam N. Levey and Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writers

DENVER — On the final night of the nominating convention, Barack Obama turned to one of the party's most potent symbols of loss: Al Gore.

Gore's narrow defeat to George W. Bush in 2000 remains an open wound for many Democrats, and the former vice president wasted little time invoking the bitter outcome of that election and its consequences.

"Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn't really matter who became president," Gore said from the main stage of the packed Invesco Field in downtown Denver. "But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn't matter." A stadium of long-suffering Democrats responded with thunderous applause.

Although Gore joked about his defeat while addressing the 2004 Democratic National Convention -- on the first night rather than the last -- he has largely avoided much public discussion of it. Instead, he has focused on raising public consciousness about global warming, an effort that won him a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize and a starring role in the documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth."

This year Gore stayed out of the fiercely contested primary between Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But after Clinton suspended her campaign in June, Gore endorsed Obama in Michigan with a raw, full-throated recollection of his 2000 defeat.

And Thursday, Gore returned to the theme, outlining starkly, if sometimes stiffly, what he said were the costs of Bush's narrow victory.

"Take it from me," Gore told the crowd. "If it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq. We would have pursued Bin Laden until we captured him.

"We wouldn't be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis. We'd be fighting for middle-income families," Gore continued. "We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution. . . . And we would not be denying the climate crisis; we'd be solving the climate crisis."

Gore then picked up one of the party's main themes of the week, linking the policies of Bush and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain with a quip: "I believe in recycling, but that's ridiculous."

"If you like the Bush-Cheney approach, John McCain's your man. If you want change, then vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

"Barack Obama is telling us exactly what he will do: launch a bold new economic plan to restore America's greatness. Fight for smarter government that trusts the market but protects us against its excesses. Enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education and pro-family. Establish a foreign policy that is smart as well as strong. Provide healthcare for all and solutions for the climate crisis."

Gore's address was less anticipated than those by former President Clinton and by Sen. Clinton, whose words and manner were closely scrutinized for signs of lingering tensions within the party. But Gore's high-profile billing Thursday night underscored his importance to the Obama campaign's strategy.

(A Gore aide said Gore was told last week that he would be speaking on the last night.)

Gore's environmental activism resonates with many younger voters whom the Obama campaign will be relying on in November to vote in larger numbers than in elections past, said Peter Fenn, a longtime Democratic strategist.

Perhaps most importantly, Fenn and others said, Gore remains a symbol Obama hopes will motivate Democrats to go to the polls.

"Anyone who looks at Al Gore and what's happened over the last eight years knows what's at stake," said Michael Feldman, who worked for Gore in the Clinton administration. "It's an object lesson for Democrats who are contemplating the choices at stake in this election."

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noam.levey@latimes.com

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robin Abcarian contributed to this report.

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