On Tuesday, Al Gore will break his silence and help his former rival achieve his onetime dream when he joins Hillary Clinton for a rally. credit: Getty Images
Two former rivals come together to defeat global warming and Donald Trump...
To describe their past relationship as frosty would be kind.
Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, who will campaign together in Florida on Tuesday in Miami, were two rising Democratic stars who reached the peak of national prominence in the reflected sunshine of Bill Clinton. Together, they gave the flawed Arkansas Governor the moral backing to survive his own political career.
But they fought for influence within the White House. And after leaving, they were in competition for their party’s money and attention as they pursued their political ambitions outside.
For Clinton, the journey she began in 2000 with her successful run for New York Senate is what set her on the path to where she finds herself now -- roughly a month from Election Day, and leading her Republican rival by a substantial margin. For Gore, the 2000 election -- which he lost after the Supreme Court decided to discontinue the Florida recount -- marked an unbelievable ending to a career in politics and a retreat from political life.
This year, Gore, now a Nobel peace prize winner and a leading voice on climate change, was one of the last big-name Democrats to stay mum on the 2016 election. He declined to offer an endorsement in the primary, and quietly issued a written statement in support of Clinton before the Democratic National Convention last July -- which he did notably not attend.
The campaign has been highlighting in web commercials it’s “squad,” which includes President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But until now, Gore has remained far, far away from that in-crowd.
On Tuesday, however, Gore will break his silence and help his former rival achieve his onetime dream when he joins Clinton in Southern Florida for a voter registration rally.
Gore no longer has the political stature -- and he never had the natural skills on the stump -- to be a closer in the same way that President Obama or the popular First Lady are performing for Clinton. But his participation in politics is rare and it becomes more valuable because of it -- in addition to the symbolism he carries. Gore's appearance alone in South Florida, the site of the 2000 recount, will be a powerful reminder to voters in the critical battleground state that every vote matters.
It was not clear if Gore plans to make an explicit mention of Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate from 2000 who many blame for costing him the election. But his presence alone will be a reminder to voters who may consider peeling off to vote for candidates like this year’s Green Party nominee Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson, both of whom are siphoning votes from Clinton, according to polls.
“Vice President Gore knows more than anyone how every vote matters,” said Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon. “We have long felt that a good number of those who are right now telling pollsters that they’re inclined to support a third party candidate are still persuadable voters to us. Among the many voters that he can speak to are those that might be on the fence about potentially voting for a third party candidate.”
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta -- who played a central role pushing President Obama’s most aggressive environmental policies and has worked with Gore on climate change issues -- reached out to Gore’s camp on behalf of Hillary Clinton, an aide said.
Gore will also be making the case about climate change, an issue that motivates millennial voters, especially in Florida, the state with the most property and the biggest population currently at risk from rising sea levels.
“He’s seen as a kind of prophet, a truth teller, especially with millennials, about an issue they care about,” said Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, who helped guide Gore’s 2000 presidential bid. “He thinks Donald Trump is a big deal and electing Hillary Clinton is essential to making any progress on climate change.”
Gore might be there to enliven the youngest voters, but for the boomer generation, the tableau of the two aging Democrats will also bring back memories of the 1990s, two days after Donald Trump revisited the decade by bringing up the sex scandals of Bill Clinton’s past at the second presidential debate.
And it was in large part because of those scandals that Gore tried to cut ties with the Clintons when he launched his presidential campaign in 1999, and initiated what became a famously strained relationship.
That year, Bill Clinton wanted Gore to run, essentially, for a third Clinton term. But Gore’s team decided a connection to the scandal-tarred president would be a problem in the battleground states and chose to run away from Bill Clinton instead. Gore announced his presidential run on June 16, 1999, in Tennessee, when the Clinton family was vacationing in Europe. The morning when Gore was set to accept his party’s nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, Bill Clinton called up Shrum, Gore’s chief adviser, and asked him to read him the speech. Gore instructed him not to share it with the president -- he had found a different, more populist voice, and didn’t want the heavy-handed Clinton meddling.
Gore’s personal revulsion over the Monica Lewinsky scandal even seeped down into whom he chose as his running mate: Joe Lieberman, who in 1998 took the Senate floor to publicly denounce Bill Clinton’s behavior as “not just inappropriate. It’s immoral.”
In 2000, the big difference between Hillary Clinton and Gore was that she chose to stay connected to her husband, heeding his political advice, while Gore chose to cut the cord with the insulted outgoing president, who felt his vice president needed his help.
But the anger -- Gore was reportedly furious that Bill Clinton had never personally apologized to him for the Lewinsky affair -- wasn’t directed only at the president.
One former White House staffer recalls Gore going “ballistic” that Hillary Clinton would run for Senate in New York while he was running for president, taking away money and oxygen from his campaign. He harbored a deep mistrust of the First Lady, even interpreting her foray into politics as a deliberate move against him, the person she had tried to push out of the sphere of influence and replace as her husband's real no. 2.
Hillary Clinton, in return, was “generally caustic about him,” the former adviser said. The irony of the tension is that Hillary Clinton and Gore appear, on some level, to be cut from the same political cloth. Both are introverts, more comfortable enmeshed in policy details and briefing books than on the campaign trail.
In the years since Gore has retreated from public life, focusing solely on his work around climate change and spending most of his time as chairman of the non-profit Climate Reality Project, he and the Clintons, who have never retreated from public life, have had little to do with each other. They are not in touch on a regular basis, said a political consultant who remains in touch with both. But the relationship, the source said, has matured over the years into mutual respect.
“You’ll hear a message on climate and a message on the importance of voting,” said one former Gore adviser who has been helping to coordinate the appearance. The adviser described Gore as “enthusiastic” about campaigning for Clinton.
But other former White House advisers expressed some skepticism at Gore’s late-stage entry into the game. “He waits until she’s almost dead certain to win the election, after everything is safe?” said one former adviser, speculating that “he doesn’t want there to be open accusations that he didn’t do his best to help elect her against the egregious Donald Trump."
But Gore's team said he was motivated solely by the importance of what's at stake in the election on his driving issue -- Trump has tweeted that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. The timing of the former vice president's rally, they said, was designed to pack the most punch.
“He’s eager to speak with Florida voters about the climate crisis and strongly believes that for those who care about solving it, the choice in this election clear,” a Gore spokeswoman, Betsy McManus, said in an email. “With the stakes so high for our country and the planet, he’s very happy to convey that message.”
When the two connect on the campaign trail in Miami, however, longtime Clinton observers will be reading their body language for signs of a thaw. There is no doubt, former aides said, that they are united against a common enemy. But they wondered about the true level of warmth among such big names in the Democratic party, with so much entangled history.
The Clinton campaign said there are no plans for any more joint appearances.