NASHVILLE -- He came, he saw, and he got down.
Thats one way of describing Al Gores appearance before a crowd of home-state Democrats at the Renaissance Hotel Saturday night.
Got down, as in: did his best aw-shucks-Im-just-a- Tennessean number, wearing casual dress, a simple open-collared blue shirt conveying an authenticity that his starched-blue-jeans-and-cowboy-boots combo of yore never did, and that adjunct-prof beard of his (yes, he still has it) gets him closer to redneck than you would think possible..
Got down, too, as in: got down to business, attacking the Bush administration for fiscal shortcomings and environmental excesses, for stroking the rich and for stiffing campaign finance reform.
For everything, there is a season, Gore said (those words being also the appended title of the prepared text his helpers handed out). And tonight, as a new election season begins, I intend to rejoin the national debate.
He did so before an audience of several thousand that included also a good many reporters for national news outlets, interested in whether the former vice president intended to hazard a new presidential bid. In the event, he was coy. Having promised to re-enter the national debate, Gore said, "Whether I will do so as a candidate in 2004 or not, I don't know yet. But as I said on Dec. 13th a year ago, no matter where my future lies, I will fight for the principles I believe are crucial to our country's future."
For the time being, his medium for doing so is a freshly formed PAC whose name, Leadership 02,is as limp and unassuming in its own way as the beard is and which will train young people in the skills of democracy and help Democratic candidates in the elections this November.
Which is to say, Al Gore will be hitting the road, presumably on the national map, too, but especially in Tennessee, where he intends to continue the work of reconciling himself to the home state which rejected him last year by a crucial 80,000 votes. "I want to make it clear, he said, that I understand there's a lot more work for me to do here - more fences that need mending. But it's work I am looking forward to because I want you to know that I love this state with all my heart and soul."
And Gore has put some money where his mouth is. As Memphis Pace Cooper, the West Tennessee chair of Saturday nights Election Kickoff 2002 effort, noted, The state party is almost bankrupt, and Gores visit churned up some $30,000 in ticket sales (at a mere $25 a head) and another $100,000 in sponsorships.
The Democrats will be counting on Gore to help deliver the governorship and, most especially, the 4th District congressional seat which Republican Van Hilleary is vacating to make his own gubernatorial run and which will tip the state congressional balance between the parties (currently 5-4 in the GOPs favor), depending on which way the seat goes in this years election.