An interrupted political comeback -- just resumed --found its way into Memphis Thursday, when a still hirsute Al Gore was the guest of honor at an evening gathering at the Morningside Place home of Jim and Lucia Gilliland, both longtime Gore friends who served in the Clinton-Gore administration and who remain dedicated to the idea of a Gore presidency. Some 25 Memphis Democrats were on hand for the affair, which was co-hosted by Gore’s former aide Greg Duckett and Duckett’s wife Brenda. It came on the eve of what has for some time been regarded as a crucial event for the former vice president, who is scheduled to be in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend as the keynote speaker at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner held annually by that key caucus state’s Democrats. Gore’s appearance in Iowa was set up weeks ago, when Gore began what amounted to a carefully staged re-emergence in the public eye. Like so much else in American life, that return to political life went on the shelf as the nation reacted to the cataclysmic events of September 11th and their aftermath. And Gore’s re-emergence of his suspended itinerary, which began in earnest with a surprise look-in on state Democratic events in Nashville last weekend, comes at a time when the man he ran against in 2000 and presumably hopes to compete against again, George W. Bush, has been transformed by the crisis into a national icon. Gore had little to say about the president Thursday night, as he greeted the small group of friends, and supporters, and longtime Democrats. He talked about his family and of how he was in Europe when he heard of the catastrophic events in New York and Washington. He related to the group the immediate concerns he had about the welfare of his daughter Karenna, who lives with her husband and their two children in Manhattan, and his wife Tipper, who was at home in Arlington, Virginia, only a mile or so from the Pentagon. Because of the suspension of normal air travel occasioned by the disaster, it took Gore three days to get back to the United States by way of Canada, and, as he was making his way back home by car, he said, he was contacted on his cell phone by former President Bill Clinton, who invited him to stay the night at the Clintons’ new home in Chappaqua, New York, on the eve of the Sunday memorial service at Washington’s National Cathedral. As has been described in more than one print account, the two former political comrades ended their recent estrangement in an animated all-night conversation, then went together to the ceremony. Gore had little to say about his future political plans, either to the group at large or to individuals singly. He quipped at one point about last year’s race and the extended Florida vote-count which followed it, “Some you win, some you lose, and then there’s that third category.” Among the guests at the reception for Gore: Tandy Gilliland; Harold Byrd; Bob Byrd; A.C. and Ruby Wharton; Ben and Frances Hooks; Margaret Box; Evelyn Stell; Janice Lucas; David Cocke; Henry and Lynne Turley; Gayle Rose; Pat Kerr Tigrett; Gale Jones Carson; Steve Earhardt; Mary Nell Sasser; Karl Schledwitz; Jim Strickland; Dawn LaFon; and Guthrie Castle. The Thursday evening occasion did not go altogether without controversy. One Democrat who didn’t get invited and didn’t’ learn until later of the event, said, “That’s typical Gore. I don’t know whether it’s him or his people, but, at a time when he needs to reach out and energize his base, he comes to a closed little affair, shakes a few hands, doesn’t say much, and then leaves. They have two Democrats running for county mayor over [Byrd and Wharton] and neglect to invite two others, both elected officials [State Rep. Carol Chumney and State Sen. Jim Kyle]. Go figure.” The event at the Gillilands’, like many of Gore’s appearances in 2001, including his teaching stints in Tennessee and at Columbia University and a semi-public political seminar in Nashville with former Governor Lamar Alexander, was closed to the media .

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