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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Al Gore Will Not Run for Presidency in '04

Aired December 15, 2002 - 16:11   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta. More now on this Associated Press report that former vice president, former presidential candidate Al Gore will not be seeking the presidency in 2004. Let's try to evaluate this some more with our own political analyst, Bill Schneider. He joins me now from Boston.

And Bill, many folks might find this rather surprising since it seemed as though in recent weeks, even months, that Al Gore may be poising himself for indeed yet another run.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly looked that way. He's been promoting his two books, one he wrote with his wife. He's been touring the country, he's been making a lot of public appearances. He gave a speech in October before the mid-term election. Very critical of President Bush's policies, including his policies in the war on terrorism and in Iraq, more than any other Democrat. And he was poised to release major statements in January on health care and on the tax cut, on the economy.

So everyone expected Gore to run. He's the front-runner in the polls. The indications are if he had run, he would have easily been the contender to beat, the favorite son for this nomination. But it looks like he's not going to do it.

WHITFIELD: If not Gore, who are the other possible contenders?

SCHNEIDER: There are a lot of them, and the list could easily grow. Two that have indicated their interest in running already are Howard Dean, the Democratic -- former governor of Vermont, and John Kerry, the senator from here in Massachusetts. He's formed an exploratory committee. There's Kerry right now. Both of them have indicated an interest.

Other names that have been circulated by the great mentioners in the political process -- Tom Daschle, the current Senate majority leader, Dick Gephardt, the leader -- the former leader -- he's the outgoing leader of the Democratic Party in Congress. People have talked about Joe Biden, the senator from Delaware, who once briefly made a run for the presidency. Some have even talked about some military figures who might be interested in running. Al Sharpton, there's another one. He's indicated he wants to throw his hat into the ring. So it's really wide open right now. WHITFIELD: Well, Bill, what do you suppose may have preceded this announced decision, according to the Associated Press by Gore? Do you suppose that he may have been consulted by or perhaps consulted with other leading Democratic leaders who may have encouraged him, or perhaps swayed his decision in any way?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I believe he's been talking to Democratic activists, fund-raisers, Democratic leaders, and possibly the news he got from them was not entirely encouraging.

The word we've been getting for some time is that a lot of influential Democrats, not just politicians, but also people who organize events, who are active in the party, really don't want to hear from Al Gore. Some of them think he blew it in 2000. They think he had a chance to win, but in their view, he distanced himself from President Clinton too much, and therefore, he didn't win. A lot of people would quarrel with that assessment, but they think that he blew the election in 2000. And now with Bush at record high popularity for a long period of time since September 11, 2001, it looks like Bush would be a formidable contender, and the Democrats may be looking for a new face.

I think probably Al Gore got that message from more than a few Democrats.

WHITFIELD: But as you said, Bill, it seemed like all the indicators might have been there with Al Gore being very public about his criticism of the Bush administration. And then even last night on "Saturday Night Live," viewers around the country were able to see a very funny side of Al Gore, a self-deprecating one, and one that was also poking fun with the current administration.

SCHNEIDER: Well, this Al Gore is supposed to be the rollout of the new Al Gore, one who's looser, less scripted, more spontaneous. You can see the reception he got on "Saturday Night Live." But you know, a lot of people in the press, fairly or unfairly, said, well, isn't this another reinvention of Al Gore who was accused of reinventing himself again and again and again during the 2000 campaign? And he, I think, was a little surprised at all that media criticism. Again, a lot of this was in the media.

Remember, if he had run for the nomination, if he had decided to run, he would have had a pretty strong issue. The issue was, he was robbed. A lot of Democrats think they really did win the election. Undeniably, he got half a million, in fact, 540,000 more votes than George W. Bush, but the votes were in the wrong places. Therefore, he didn't get elected president. So a lot of Democrats say he was robbed, because of what happened in Florida, and Gore deserved another chance. That would have been a very powerful issue going into the primaries.

WHITFIELD: I imagine, Bill, with this announcement there's a lot of scrambling now and a whole lot of folks who are on the telephone in and around Washington trying to figure out maybe who to throw their support to. You mentioned some of the names. You know, John Kerry, Howard Dean, et cetera, at the head of the pack, perhaps. But does this also perhaps leave room maybe now for some rather unknowns?

SCHNEIDER: It does leave room for unknowns. We've seen this happen in the past. Normally, when there's a front runner, even this early in the game, the research has shown that front runner usually gets the nomination. Not without a fight, but they usually get the nomination, because they're able to raise more money and to move to the top of the polls even before a single vote is cast in Iowa or New Hampshire.

But now, with the field totally wide open, frankly, there is no front runner for the Democratic nomination in 2004. There is no front runner at all. It's wide open. Anybody can get into it. And we're in a stage now where the invisible primary starts today. This is the beginning of the year-long process until the end of 2003 when it's a race to see who can move up in the polls, who can raise the most money. That candidate usually gets the nomination. But it happens before any voter has cast a vote. So it's going to be a rock 'n' roll, invisible primary for the next year.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, don't go away. Stick around for a moment. We want to come back to you in a second in Boston. Right now, let's go to Washington and the White House where our John King is there. And John, perhaps it's a little early for the Bush administration to be reacting already, but is there any reaction from them?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No. And I doubt we will get any until after the vice president, the former vice president makes his official statement tonight. CNN is told by a senior Gore adviser that he made this decision just in the past few days. Obviously, with this media blitz Gore has been doing in recent days, many anticipated that he was preparing to announce that he would seek the Democratic nomination again.

But we are told now by a senior Gore adviser that he has decided to go on the CBS program, "60 Minutes" tonight, and do an interview in which he will say he has decided he will not seek to run again for president in the year 2004. He will not seek the Democratic nomination. This senior adviser says that Gore came to this decision in the last few days. The adviser says he himself does not know the reasons, that the vice president wants to do that, the former vice president, excuse me, wants to convey those reasons in this interview.

And the senior adviser also said that Mr. Gore plans to call Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut -- obviously Senator Lieberman was Gore's running mate back in the 2000 election -- and I heard you discussing with Bill Schneider just moments ago, what does this do to the field? Obviously it throws everything into question. But one development we should look for very quickly, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts already has indicated he is running. And we are told that Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri has been meeting with top political advisers and with key activists and calling key activists in Iowa, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, and if not by the end of the year, then we're told in the first week or so in January, Congressman Dick Gephardt, Democrat who ran against Gore way back in 1988, Dick Gephardt will get into the race as well -- Fredricka. WHITFIELD: And John, Bill just said, while it may seem very early, already this invisible primary has begun, starting right now. And this is why it's likely the Bush administration is still paying very close attention to this. Even though Bush's popularity is still up, certainly with a war, you know, waiting in the wings, potentially, the economy still hanging in the balance, this certainly could be a pivotal moment just for the Bush administration as well.

KING: Well, certainly many -- most senior Bush political advisers believe that Gore would feel the urge to run again and to seek a rematch. Most Bush political advisers also said that they thought that was a good scenario for them, and the fact that they say that this president and the presidency have changed so much since the contested 2000 presidential election, that they thought President Bush would be in a very strong position in a rematch against former Vice President Gore. And of course, it's obvious, you don't need Bush political people to tell you this, Gore would have been the overwhelming favorite had he sought the nomination.

Now they look around the field. And if you ask Bush people to size up the field, they don't take issue with each individual candidate that we know of so far. The one dynamic they do say is you have a lot of people from Washington right now. Former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, is a Democrat out there running for the nomination, but there is no ex-governor out there, Democratic governor from a big state that the Bush people view as a huge threat.

This will cause a reassessment in the Bush thinking as they look toward the race as well. But here at the White House, they say simply the president has to prepare for reelection. He can't worry about who the Democrats will nominate. But this certainly will change the dynamics quite a bit, though, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, John King at the White House, thank you very much. We want to continue our discussions here on former Vice President Al Gore making his announcement, according to the Associated Press, that he will not be throwing his hat into the presidential ring for the 2004 race. And on the telephone with us now is one of Gore's former spokespersons of the 2002 presidential campaign, Doug Hattaway is one the telephone with us.

Doug, good to hear from you on the telephone. Thanks for joining us. So, what is the official reason? What do you understand it to be?

DOUG HATTAWAY, FORMER GORE SPOKESPERSON: I don't know. This actually caught me somewhat by surprise. I've been talking to some close associates of the former vice president recently, and they, frankly, didn't know what he was going to do. They were saying sometimes that it really looked like he was going to run, and in other days they just couldn't tell.

So I don't know. My hunch is that he really is enjoying the life that he and Tipper have made for themselves. He obviously had a good time last night on "Saturday Night Live," if you watched that. He really seems to be enjoying himself in writing and traveling and speaking.

That's the best I can figure. I haven't gotten any official reason. He was certainly the front runner, if you looked at all the polls. It wasn't going to be a cake walk, but he was certainly well positioned to run if he had chosen to do so, and I think it's good for the rest of the field, that since he decided not to, that he is going to go ahead and tell everybody, so that people who have been waiting for him can go ahead and start to look at other candidates.

WHITFIELD: And Doug, our John King just reported that Al Gore will officially be making his announcement on CBS "60 Minutes" this evening, and that's the forum in which he's decided to make this announcement. Are you rather surprised that perhaps, you know, he still hasn't gotten around to calling all of his personal friends or former aides and workers to let them know personally?

HATTAWAY: He may be doing that, I don't know. I think it's...

WHITFIELD: You haven't been notified until now.

HATTAWAY: Well, I'm sure there's a lot of phone calls going on right now to a lot of people. I think certainly this approach is one way to get out the word all at once and sort of control it. These things have a way of spinning out of control, and people, you know, making up their own reasons and filling in the blanks. I think this way he gets to come out himself and sort of tell the whole country all at once what he's thinking, rather than being subject to a lot of speculation over a matter of days. So I don't think it's a bad approach.

WHITFIELD: All right, Doug, everyone has a whole lot of questions for you. Hold on a moment. We want to pull up from Boston our CNN political analyst Bill Schneider, who has also got a question for you, Doug -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Doug, have you heard any indication, do you know any indication that he's been in touch with former President Bill Clinton on any of these matters?

HATTAWAY: I have not. I'm not part of the Gore organization anymore. But I do have close friends who work with him, or around him. He was in Boston recently, as you know, as part of his book tour. But nobody I talked to had given any indication. I think that it's catching a lot of people by surprise.

WHITFIELD: Doug, let me ask you this. You mentioned that you -- you know, you kind of surmised that perhaps Al Gore and Tipper Gore enjoying their lives and this perhaps might be one of the reasons why he made the decision not to throw his hat into the ring. But at the same time, we've been noticing he's become a lot more public in recent weeks. Were you starting to believe most definitely that he was likely to be throwing his hit into the ring?

HATTAWAY: I guess, I'm not a betting man, but I would have put my money on that he was running. I think because he has been very public. Made very strong and clear, you know, statements about the direction that Bush is taking the country. You know, he's stayed in touch with folks who supported him in the past, including people who raised money, which is always something that you want to do if you're planning to run for president.

So if you would have asked me, I would have guessed he was running. But that's that. I guess I'm not surprised that he's stepped back and decided that he'd rather enjoy life rather than take that on again.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, do you have a question?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Have you, Doug, heard any indications that some people who supported him in the past, in 2000 or earlier, have been reluctant to support him again? Reluctant specifically to give him money for another run at the presidency?

HATTAWAY: I think that there's been this whole school of thought among, I guess, the activists, including money people, I think they've split into a couple of schools of thought. Those that believe he deserves the nomination, that he won that campaign fair and square, in fact, got more votes for president than anybody since Ronald Reagan and that he ought to run again.

And there's another school of thought of people who thought that he didn't do as well with the campaign as he should have and so forth. So I think it was -- I don't think he had everybody behind him 100 percent. I don't think anyone expected that. I don't think he expected that.

If you looked at sort of that piece of the primary, the people who were raising money, and working for candidates, and organizing in places like Iowa, New Hampshire, I think there was a set of them that were going to stick with Gore and another set, a fairly large set, that were open to other candidates.

And I think that's fine. That's part of the process. I don't think they've ever expected just to waltz right into the nomination.

SCHNEIDER: From what you have heard, do you think the former vice president's concern was more about his ability to win the nomination, or his ability to beat President Bush in 2004?

HATTAWAY: I don't know. Like I said, I've not heard anything specific. I think one of the natures of this sort of thing when somebody is deciding, trying to make a big decision like this that impact their personal life and their professional life and the party, it's actually (UNINTELLIGIBLE) unless they've been very specific about their thought process.

And most of them aren't. You know, until people make a decision like this, you don't really hear a lot. It's hard to make a read. So I haven't heard anything specific. I think he's made a decision and counseled with his family and close associates, and they haven't been talking.

SCHNEIDER: Do you know if he's discussed this at all with his former running mate, Senator Lieberman?

HATTAWAY: Again, haven't heard anything specific like that. I'm sure he's one of the first people who would be called today. I think this announcement is certainly good for Joe. As you've all reported, and everybody knows, he said he wasn't going to run if Al Gore said he was. And this is one of -- I think today, all the other candidates who are in the field or are thinking of it, you know, are probably scrambling to get on the phone, to start calling people, to begin the process of cultivating their support. And I think Joe's probably feeling the freest of all right now, because it's the first sort of clear shot he's had.

SCHNEIDER: I imagine a lot of people are going to be on the phone also making plane reservations to New Hampshire.

HATTAWAY: Yeah, I can't believe it's already upon us again. I was in New Hampshire starting in the summer of 1999 for the February 2000 primary, and it seems like the process is already upon us. So it's starting very, very early because of all the candidates in the field.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

WHITFIELD: All right. Doug Hattaway, thank you very much. Former Gore spokesperson from the 2002 (sic) presidential campaign. Thanks for joining us from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And real quick, before you leave out of Massachusetts, given that's John Kerry's state, are you hearing any rumblings in that state in terms of whether that is a state that wants to support their congressional leader?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think a lot of Massachusetts Democrats have been enthusiastic about John Kerry. One of them, one of the longest serving members of Congress, Barney Frank, actually was openly critical. A Democratic member of Congress from Massachusetts, was openly critical of Al Gore and he said he didn't think Al Gore should run. Now, he, of course, is a colleague from the same state as John Kerry. But he encouraged Gore to make this decision not to run. He was one of the few Democrats who actually said that out in the open.

A lot of people said, well, he's from Massachusetts, he has a long-standing connection to John Kerry. But one other point here, of course, is that John Kerry instantly does become the front runner in New Hampshire, because it's a neighboring state. So one of the interesting dynamics of this race is people now expect John Kerry to win the New Hampshire primary, which means he has to win the New Hampshire primary. And if he does win the New Hampshire primary, a lot of other candidates will say, well, we discount that because that's a neighboring state. And the election -- the nomination may be decided elsewhere.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, hold on a moment. I want to bring in Jeff Greenfield, another CNN family member here. Jeff, if you're able to hear me OK, you know, we talk about whether indeed there was the support being thrown behind Al Gore, and perhaps he wasn't getting the support he needed. Perhaps that's why he made the decision not to run. At the same time, just earlier this week, it was revealed that quite a few millions were still in his trust, or fund, just poised perfectly for a run of the presidency.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: I'd like to suggest a heretical, outrageous solution (ph) to you, that this may have been a human response rather than a political one. I mean, here is a guy who was groomed for the presidency, who literally from the day he was born, by his dad and mom, his dad the senator from Tennessee, who spent years for the presidency, who lost under the most agonizing circumstances imaginable.

Ed Rendell, the incoming governor of Pennsylvania, who was the Democratic (UNINTELLIGIBLE) told me it was almost -- it was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plot to keep Gore out.

And then as Bill Schneider (UNINTELLIGIBLE), September 11 changes the whole framework. And all I can tell you, watching "Saturday Night Live" last night, I told my wife -- actually, the next morning, because she fell asleep, I said, not the appearance of a man planning to run for president. This is not like going on "Letterman," this is not like playing the saxophone on "Arsenio Hall" the way that Bill did, not Richard Nixon going on "Laugh-in." I mean, if you're willing to be out there the way Al Gore was, you know, appearing naked in a hot tub with a Joe Lieberman, impersonating Trent Lott in a very tough sketch, sitting at the desk at the "West Wing," poignantly wondering what it would be like to be president, it appeared to me that it's telling us something, that as a human being, Al Gore had reached a decision, I just don't want to do this.

WHITFIELD: And that's the real mixed message in all of this, isn't it? What makes this decision so confusing?

GREENFIELD: I think a lot of us who cover politics make an understandable fundamental mistake. We just assume that everything a politician does is in a political calculus. I bet there were people who were watching "Saturday Night Live" last night, said, what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) maneuver, to show that he really can reinvent himself. And I think Al Gore knows full well that a lot of Democrats hold him responsible for not winning, whatever the circumstances of 2000 were, to go into an election (UNINTELLIGIBLE) kind of an economy (UNINTELLIGIBLE) against a less experienced candidate and not to win decisively, losing all the debates because of his demeanor.

He knew full well, I think, that unlike 2000, which was basically a cake walk to the nom, because Bill Bradley never put up a real fight, this was going to be a dogfight. And with an opponent who is vastly more presidential by definition than he was in 2000.

And as I say, you know, I think some -- this fellow who we all assume did nothing except for political reasons, didn't order a ham sandwich (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sat back and talked to his family and said, you know, there are other things to do.

I noticed one profile of Al Gore that mentioned -- or one analysis that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) happier he was, how much more spontaneous he was talking about ideas (ph) and travel than he was talking about politics. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) kind of freeze up and become this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) robo-Gore, as some people called him.

And I just felt -- again, I don't mean to oversell the "Saturday Night Live" appearance, but just watching this, this is a guy to me who hoped to have freed himself from that kind of calculus, and said, I'm going for it. This is silly. It's been over the top. I don't care. And when you're at that point, like you don't even care, you may be telling us something, even before he goes on "60 Minutes" tonight, saying, you know what, not this time.

WHITFIELD:: And Jeff, I wonder if another message that's being sent from him by making that decision, and, you know, indeed articulated just the way you put it, does it also mean that perhaps he says, you know what, forget politics altogether? I mean, does he even have an opportunity or maybe even a vision to pursue something else in politics? What next?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think -- he may have set a record here. Maybe we'll start (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in 2008 or 2012. As they say, I think anybody who works in politics or covers it knows that you don't make a decision that many years out. That's impossible. Is he thinking of, you know, I can serve a future Democratic president as secretary of state, I could be a special adviser on technology issues, which he does care about? Could I devote myself to issues of nuclear proliferation, which is something in the Senate he was very big on? Sure, that's all possible. Or maybe he'd like to go off and put his feet up and grow his beard again and listen to rock 'n' roll and not worry about politics, as he has, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for so much of his adult life.

I mean, this is a guy who didn't want to be a politician, who started to be an investigative journalist. And at the age of 29 kind of got sucked back in, ran for Congress, then he ran for the U.S. Senate, and was on the track that his parents had set for him. Whether or not he ever thought of doing it himself. And maybe -- you know, maybe late for a midlife crisis, although he's still relatively young, at least by my (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

So maybe he's just decided it would be a two-year fight, and I've got other things to do. As I say, a lot of us just assumed that when people enter politics and get that close to the presidency, they only give it up when they're being carted away to their own funerals. Well, maybe not. Maybe not.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll all be waiting and watching. Jeff, thanks very much.

GREENFIELD: OK.

Robert George at the "New York Post" is also joining us to give us his insight from Washington. And Robert, did this kind of hit you like a ton of bricks?

ROBERT GEORGE, NEW YORK POST: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, Fredricka. I think almost everybody was assuming that he was going to run. I have to kind of agree with Jeff, though, looking -- I watched "Saturday Night Live" yesterday, and looking back on it, you can kind of think that, you know, especially the hot tub scene and he had a parody of his enhanced smooch with Tipper and so forth, you kind of think that was that necessarily what somebody would be doing who is getting ready to be running for president? And I guess in a sense, he may have been tipping his hand a little bit early.

WHITFIELD: And so many others were thinking right away that, wow, you know, here is the truly funny side of him. You know, a lot more endearing to perhaps the viewing audience, the American people.

GEORGE: Yeah, that's exactly right. Though, you know, it's interesting, Jeff did mention, you know, there is also the possibility of 2008, depending -- it would obviously depend on whether a Democrat won in 2004 or not, but you do have the precedent of Richard Nixon, who lost a very, very close race in 1960, decided to forgo the 1964 presidential election, and then came back and ended up winning a very close race in 1968. So who knows.

WHITFIELD: So what kind of future do you see for Al Gore at this juncture?

GEORGE: Well, he may have a future in comedy, we don't know. I would imagine he's probably going to be doing a lot of academics, of going -- probably doing some more teaching. He may be a little bit too young to become an elder statesman of the Democratic Party. But he's obviously, you know, he's obviously somebody who definitely won -- he won 500,000 more votes than President Bush. And so, I would imagine that whoever -- the Democrats out there will be vying for his support in 2004.

WHITFIELD: Do you think because of this announcement now, he's sort of less empowered to poke fun or be a major critic of the Republicans, (INTELLIGIBLE) presidency?

GEORGE: Oh, I would imagine so. If we take him at his word from his interview, I think it was last weekend on George Stephanopoulos' show, he said he was working on unveiling an economic plan in January. If he still plans on going ahead with that -- and it is interesting, I mean, he's been kind of increasing some of his criticisms both of the administration and conservative media, like Fox News and "New York Post" and other places, so maybe he figures that if he doesn't have the burden of saying that he's doing it for political purposes, he can basically say whatever he wants.

WHITFIELD: Among the names being tossed out as potential Democratic nominees, or at least candidates before they become nominees, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt. Among those, do you see that Al Gore might favor any one of those and actually throw his support behind one of them?

GEORGE: That's hard to say. I mean, obviously he ran with Joe Lieberman, which you didn't mention, he ran with Lieberman, so Lieberman might be somebody he might be leaning towards, because now Lieberman in a sense is freed up from the pledge that he had made that he would not run if Gore ran. As far as the other ones, Gephardt would have been -- might have been somebody who would have been challenging him from the union and left base. But, you know, otherwise, I think it's really wide open.

WHITFIELD: You mentioned Joseph Lieberman, and our John King just reported just moments ago that his sources are telling him that Al Gore will be making a telephone call, or somehow conversing with Joseph Lieberman later on this evening, perhaps before that "60 Minutes" interview is to air this evening. Is that sort of an indicator that maybe that might be that kind of phone call that will encourage his former running mate to get involved?

GEORGE: Well, it could very well be. He may just say, well, you know, you were admirable in sticking towards your pledge, and I wanted you to be one of the first people to officially hear from me that I'm not going to be running. And so, you know, godspeed, do what you want, do what you will.

WHITFIELD: What do you suppose the conversation, if there is one, since it appears as though Al Gore, and perhaps former President Bill Clinton have kind of mended fences in some ways, they've had some interaction, do you suppose that there was any consulting going on between them before this announcement was made?

GEORGE: You know, that's a good question. It's just speculation right now. It seems to me, and obviously we have to wait to hear the actual interview tonight. I would imagine that this was a very personal decision for Al Gore. So it was probably he and Tipper and his family and closest advisers. He may -- I don't know, he may have put in a courtesy call to Bill Clinton, but in terms of making the actual decision, it was probably a personal decision on his own part.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let me bring Bill Schneider in, if I can. He's still in Boston. Perhaps, Bill, you can weigh in on this. We talk about the potential candidates that may be kind of waiting in the wings. But there, of course, are always some surprises in the end, that there just might be someone, whether, as you mentioned, some governor or maybe even some other lesser known legislator or lawmaker who might throw their hat into the ring and really kind of throw everyone for a loop.

SCHNEIDER: May I mention the name from 1992, Bill Clinton? He was largely unknown. And in 1992, at this point, at the end of 1991, which was, of course, just before that election, everyone was waiting for Mario Cuomo to make his decision. And in a dramatic moment, he decided at the last moment not to file in the New Hampshire primary. That was in December 1991. And suddenly Bill Clinton, a very little- known governor from Arkansas, suddenly made a splash, gave a speech at the Democratic Leadership Council, and moved up in the polls and became -- he had to fight for it, but he became the front runner for the nomination. So lots of people can come out.

I didn't mention John Edwards of North Carolina. He's been actively -- he hasn't declared his candidacy, but he's been out there trying to gather support. He just did a tour of Europe to try to bolster his international policy credentials. Obviously, Joe Lieberman is -- was Gore's running mate and stands to benefit from this. He had said several times that he would not run if Gore was a candidate. Now, of course, it's completely open for him to run.

I mention a military figure, someone reminded me the name of one of our own CNN military consultants, General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, has at some points given sort of hints that he might be interested in running. Because remember, one of the key qualifications in this current era for president of the United States is international credibility, credibility on national security. John Kerry claims to have that. He's a Vietnam veteran. He's been active in national security affairs. Wesley Clark is a military figure. So some people say that's what the Democrats ought to be looking for.

WHITFIELD: Interesting point. And, you know, since you mentioned this invisible primary is likely to be beginning right now, that also means that some serious fund-raising has to begin for those who don't have the financial backing independently.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Fund-raising is very much part of this game right now. The research I was referring to was done by a former student of mine, William Mayor (ph), of Northeastern University who found that in nine of the last 10 contests, contested contests in both parties for the nomination, whoever had the most money on December 31, the year before the election, won the nomination.

I mean, it's very -- the only one who didn't have the most money was Ronald Reagan in 1980. John Connelly (ph), remember him, he actually had more money than Ronald Reagan. But after that, every candidate who had raised the most money, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, whatever, whoever had raised the most money a year from now, that is just before the Iowa caucuses, turned out to get the nomination. So you can bet that the fund-raising orgy is on.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. Well, Robert, let me bring you back in here. Who do you suppose of the field of potential candidates, then, or those members that we're talking about right now, who might be able to garner that kind of financial backing in that year mark to come?

GEORGE: Well, obviously John Kerry is probably the big name, and he has his -- well, his wife has one of the large -- has a large fortune, as being one -- as being an heiress. Though he says that he's not going to be tapping that, but you know, you never know. He definitely does.

John Edwards is a trial lawyer and obviously has a lot of access to monetary resources that way. Lieberman, if he jumps into it, obviously, because of the name recognition and the fact that he ran once before, may have something of a national program, or group in place as well.

So I would guess that those would be some of the same people. Though just to piggyback on something that Bill said earlier on, one of the big differences between now and 1992 is that the Democratic Party have truncated their -- the primary so much that a Bill Clinton type would probably not have the luxury of jumping in at say the end of 2003 and making a run for it. There's too much -- there are too many primaries in too short a time to be able to campaign all across the country.

WHITFIELD: So, gentlemen, let me ask you on your predictions, how soon now might we start hearing official announcements from any of these potential candidates that they're ready to officially start campaigning, and they're ready to get their name out there as a potential candidate? Is that something we're going to see in the next...

(CROSSTALK)

GEORGE: Oh, I would say probably about two minutes after "60 Minutes" is over.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Exactly. It's getting very late. You know, Robert George mentioned, Robert George mentioned the front loading. Look what's happened. In 1992, Mario Cuomo decided not to run in December 1991, immediately before the beginning race of that year.

Well, this is a whole year ahead of that that Al Gore said he's not going to run. So what's going to happen now is, of course, it's going to be decided even more quickly. We're at the stage now that we used to be in January of the election year. It's January of the year before the election year that Gore says he's not going to run, the race for the money is wide open. Candidates are going to be jumping in left and right. I mean that literally, left and right. And there's going to be a huge competition.

GEORGE: And also to keep in mind the other things, I mean, this is a really kind of brave new world we're going into right now, because first of all, you've got the truncated schedule, as we just mentioned. You also have to realize, this is also going to be the first presidential election in the post-campaign finance reform era, assuming that most of it stands up to legal challenge. And so you've got all the soft money that won't be able there. So you've got a lot of people that are going to be going after the hard federal dollars.

That's what George W. Bush was so successful at collecting last year. And -- excuse me, the last presidential cycle. And it's going to be interesting to see which of the Democrat candidates manages to raise a large amount of money to be competitive.

WHITFIELD: All right. Robert George, Bill Schneider, thank you very much, gentlemen, for joining me. Appreciate it. Of course, we're going to be talking a lot more about former Vice President Al Gore's decision not to run in the 2004 presidential election. And, of course, later on this evening, he says he's going to be making his announcement official on "60 Minutes" on CBS.

But before we go and toss to a break, we want to bring Jon Karl on the phone with us now to talk a little bit more about what your sources are telling you about perhaps why Al Gore made this decision? JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that actually those close to Al Gore have been predicting for the last couple of weeks. The kind of conventional wisdom among those close to Gore. And this was a very closely guarded decision. I mean, this is something Al Gore was not consulting with people very widely.

But those who were in the upper echelon of his campaign in 2000 had started to think over the last two weeks that he was, in fact, not going to run. So although it is a surprise to many who saw him go out last week, you know, I mean, you saw him go out on ABC with George Stephanopoulos and talk about he was going to be unveiling a health plan and an economic plan, that looks like somebody who was running for president. But in point in fact, if you look at what was going on on the ground in places like Iowa and New Hampshire, where presidential candidates need to start to establish themselves, get the people, the ground troops to run in a presidential primaries and caucuses, Al Gore was not doing that. He wasn't doing fund-raising. So in many ways, he didn't look like somebody who was getting ready to jump in.

WHITFIELD: It seems as though, Jonathan, clearly the research was being done by leading Democrats to find out, to kind of get the pulse of America that perhaps Al Gore was not the one to get the support, because clearly it seemed as though he was behaving as though he was about to run. That someone just stopped him at the last minute and said, you know what, you may want to rethink that.

KARL: But you know, if you looked at every single public opinion poll that looked at what Democrats thought in terms of who their candidate should be, Al Gore was number one on every single poll.

Now, it is true that in terms of the Democratic leadership, the Democratic establishment, top Democrats in Washington, on Capitol Hill, there was a consensus that they did not want Gore to run again. They wanted a new voice, a new face in this. But in terms of the polls, in terms of rank and file Democrats across the country, Al Gore certainly has more name recognition than any of the others that are talked about, and he was leading those polls.

But there was a poll that came out in New Hampshire last week that showed Al Gore basically within the margin of error against John Kerry, who, of course, is somebody, a prominent Democrat who is almost certain to run for president. So New Hampshire is critical, it's the first primary state, and John Kerry is a little bit almost like a local son there, because he's from neighboring Massachusetts. It was clear that Gore was going to face a really tough battle. Certainly for the primaries across the country, but especially in that first primary of New Hampshire.

So he did know this was going to be a tough fight. And there is no question about it. Al Gore liked to portray himself as an underdog, which is kind of funny, given he was the nominee last time.

WHITFIELD: And Jonathan, we're still looking at pictures now of John Kerry. And perhaps you agree with Bill Schneider who said that whoever the leading Democratic candidate will be, it has to be someone with that international credibility. And John Kerry is somebody who has that.

KARL: There is no question. John Kerry, of course, is a war hero. He won the Silver Star in Vietnam. And clearly, you're going to be hearing a lot about his own story, his own war experience as he prepares his own campaign for president.

Joe Lieberman is probably the person most ecstatic to hear this decision, because Joe Lieberman, of course, had made that promise that he would not run if Al Gore had run. Lieberman had been telling me for weeks, and perhaps this was wishful thinking on his part, but he had been saying for weeks that he really didn't think that Al Gore was going to run. Now, Lieberman is somebody who has stood out as a real hawk among the Democrats. He was the first Democrat to endorse the idea of going to war against Iraq this time around. He is somebody who has been a real hawk on the war on terror. So he's also somebody who comes in there from almost a conservative side of the party when it comes to military issues, international issues.

But that's definitely going to be something people are going to look at. But look at John Edwards, another person who is clearly gearing up for a run for president. Not somebody with the kind of military experience that somebody like John Kerry has, somebody who is a former trial lawyer. But he's got a lot of support among Democrats, because he's seen as a fresh face and somebody who can articulate a new vision for the party, and that's what they definitely want right now.

WHITFIELD: And Jonathan, even though sources are saying that Al Gore will be telephoning Joe Lieberman a little bit later on this evening, is it your gut feeling that that conversation has likely already taken place?

KARL: If it hasn't taken place already, it certainly will take place before Al Gore goes out and makes this official in public and talks about it on "60 Minutes." And it's clear, I will tell you, Fredricka, you will see Joe Lieberman in very short order respond to this by announcing his own exploratory committee to run for president.

He's been waiting for this. He's been ramping up his campaign, knowing that if Al Gore was not going to run, he would be in there. So this Democratic field is starting to take shape. You're going to see John Kerry, you're going to see Joe Lieberman, you're probably going to see John Edwards. You already have Howard Dean, the -- you know, of Vermont. You're going to see this -- it's going to be a crowded field, because Democrats sense they have an opportunity. As popular as Bush is, Democrats feel they have an opportunity.

WHITFIELD: All right. Congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl, thank you very much for joining us on the telephone.

In a crowded field that already turns out to be, if you listen to some of the names that are being tossed out, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards, all of those names and people will be closely watched to see how quickly if indeed they end up throwing their hats into the ring now that former vice president and former presidential candidate Al Gore has said no to running for presidency in 2004.

It almost seemed as though he was poising himself just to make that announcement, particularly after so many Americans saw last night on "Saturday Night Live" the very funny side of Al Gore. We're going to take a short break. And of course, we'll be revisiting this topic, and other news at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Good afternoon again. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN center in Atlanta. We want to resume our conversations about Al Gore announcing he will not be seeking the presidency in 2004. And on the telephone with me now from Bethesda, Maryland, just outside the Washington, D.C. area, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. And Candy, I imagine the phone lines are buzzing in Washington this evening. What are your sources telling you?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of things. I think moving it forward a little, you will hear very shortly from Senator Lieberman, if you haven't already, who, of course, was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. This frees him up, obviously, to jump in the race, something he's been wanting to do. He's already been talking to campaign managers for the past couple of weeks. And we've been led to believe that he will put out a statement acknowledging Al Gore's service and then saying when he would -- he would have an announcement of his own.

As far as why, that's the $64,000 question. A couple of things that have been coming out recently, and that is, first of all, that Al Gore in his machinations over this, did think about, or people around him thought about whether or not the Democratic Party at this point needed a new face, or at least not one that came with the baggage of 2000 on it.

Second of all, it's a big risk. Al Gore has run for the presidency twice, 2000, and then before in the '80s. And a third time, if there were a loss, would be something that you might not want to have go down in the history books.

So there are any number of reasons. Other than I talked to somebody recently who said that they do feel that Al Gore will stay in the public dialogue mix. That he would perhaps make a great university president, and foster some ideas that way, that he likes the -- being in the forefront of putting things out there, but that perhaps this 2004 is certainly not his time.

WHITFIELD: And perhaps not -- if not in politics, as you say, perhaps as a professor, but even possibly as a businessman, since he does indeed have that history as being a businessman who was very involved in non-political events and issues?

CROWLEY: Well, and he was also a journalist. So, you know, I imagine he'll be hearing from a couple of networks. Look, I think that the board is pretty open for what the former vice president wants to do. He has become, it seems to me, easier over the past two years with the thought of not being in public life. This is a man who has spent most of his life in public service. So there are any number of avenues, I'm sure, that he could go.

He has been teaching over the past couple of years, classes in Tennessee. They've just bought a home down in Tennessee, where, I think, the last week I checked, still decorating, you know, that kind of thing.

So there are plenty of things out there to do. And he's still relatively a young man. And there's always the next cycle. But I think the other thing you have to look at it is that it is sort of tacit indication that the George Bush of 2004 will not be the George Bush of 2000. It just becomes a tougher race. And that had to figure into the calculations.

WHITFIELD: All right, Candy, are your sources giving you any indication as to whether this is indeed a happy decision for him, or if this is a decision of defeat given that there may have been some pressure from other leading Democrats?

CROWLEY: You know, he reads the newspaper, and certainly knows what other people are saying. To give up on something that you've thought about much of your adult life can't be easy. Sources saying, oh, it was difficult, it was, you know, it was easy, either one, no, they're not saying, because, to tell you the truth, Al Gore has not talked to that many people that you would think he would be talking to. I take him at his word that he was talking to the people whose opinions he trusted most, bounced it off his wife Tipper, his daughter Corinna and the rest of his family.

Interestingly, both Corinna and Mrs. Gore have said, recently, within the past several months, that they would like him to run again. So must have been interesting family meetings. But I can tell you that there are not that many people that Al Gore confided in as he went through this thought process.

WHITFIELD: All right, Candy Crowley, on the telephone with us from Bethesda, Maryland, thank you very much.

Well, just to refresh your memories now as we've been talking about this for the past 30 minutes or so, since the story broke, that former vice president, former presidential candidate Al Gore has decided he will not be running for the presidency in the year 2004. And earlier we talked to John King at the White House. We are going to be talking to him once more, visiting him there at the White House, where your sources have made it very clear that he hopes to make this announcement very public on CBS this evening, on "60 Minutes" -- John.

KING: Well, Fredricka, that a way, obviously, for the former vice president to get a significant national audience. He obviously has our attention already. But the vice president, we're told by a senior adviser, made this decision in the past week and then decided to go on "60 Minutes" to make it public. He will give an interview on the CBS News program tonight, making his decision public.

And this was a very closely held decision, as Candy was just noting. The vice president has spoken to his wife, his daughters, his brother-in-law, and a few others. But even people who worked in the Gore campaign last time around are finding out this decision through the news media today. There are a small circle of aides who've worked with him who were aware of this decision, including the one senior adviser who has told us of the vice president's decision. But we spoke to one other who said he had not been informed. Even the senior adviser who told us the vice president would do this, said that he had not been given or at least given clearance to discuss it, the vice president's reasons for making this decision.

I know that he did not call Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The vice president has not told the chairman of the party.

We were told by this senior adviser that the vice president did plan a courtesy call to Joe Lieberman, the senator from Connecticut, his running mate, and a man who of course has said he is interested in seeking the Democratic nomination himself, but would not do so if Al Gore ran again. So in many ways this vice president, the former vice president's decision not to run will open the doors, if you will, to anyone else who might have been reluctant to run because they viewed the former vice president as the overwhelming favorite.

Senior John Kerry of Massachusetts is already in. The Vermont governor, Howard Dean, already in. Not that they can't change their minds, but they are actively pursuing support. Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri, until recently the House Democratic leader, a man who ran for president back in 1988, has spent the past several weeks urgently calling key activists in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, lining up fund-raising support, lining up a political staff. We're told that by the end of this month or early January he will announce he is in.

So in the former vice president saying he will not run, it does a lot to change the field of potential candidates. And also, all those fund-raisers, all those labor union leaders, all the environmentalists who said they would wait to hear what Al Gore had to say now are rethinking how they will view and who they might work for come 2004 -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And John, I suppose the only way in which to read into the fact that a lot of former colleagues of Al Gore weren't directly notified about this decision is that he simply wanted to have the forum, perhaps, this evening to tell the general public and his close friends himself, as opposed to it being leaked out by any and everyone.

KING: Well, it's an interesting footnote, if you will, on Al Gore's political career. And we don't know that it's over, we just know that he's going to sit out this cycle. But he is someone who has been frequently criticized, even by fellow Democrats, of being too calculating, doing everything based on polls, everything based on the advice of political advisers. Yet when it comes to key decisions like this, he routinely, it is his habit to retreat to a very small circle -- chief among them, his wife, Tipper, his daughters and his brother-in-law. And the vice president, then, reaches outside when he thinks he needs information. But he has been a very private person all his life, even though his critics have always said he is very calculating and simply follows the directions of political strategists and pollsters.

WHITFIELD: All right, John King from the White House, thank you very much.

And in Boston, our political analyst Bill Schneider returns to help us out on this topic, once more. So what do you think, Bill? Obviously he wanted to keep this quiet, in which to make this announcement in a very large forum. John even confirmed just moments ago, though, it is confirmed that Al Gore did finally have that conversation with Joe Lieberman.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, I'm not surprised. Because Joe Lieberman, of course, his political future hinged upon what Al Gore decided. And I think Gore felt he owed him the courtesy of at least informing him first.

But what a spectacular buildup between the book tour, and all the television appearances, and "Saturday Night Live," and then "60 Minutes," which is still one of the most popular shows on television. Remember, Bill Clinton went on "60 Minutes" with his wife to explain some controversies early in the 1992 campaign. Al Gore is going on "60 Minutes" to announce this very, very important decision.

WHITFIELD: Even Doug Hattaway, who we spoke with earlier, you had a chance to talk with him as well, former spokesperson for Al Gore during the 2002 campaign, said that he was kept in the dark and that this came as a huge surprise to him.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah, apparently a lot of people were kept in the dark. Jeff Greenfield said this could have been a very human, very personal decision. But there could have been something political about it, too. And let me explain that.

What Gore discovered, and I think a lot of people discovered this, is that being vice president is a terrific way to get your party's nomination. But it's usually a handicap in the general election when you run for president. Gore didn't quite make it in the electoral vote in 2000, though he clearly easily got the nomination.

And time and again, we found that Hubert Humphrey got the nomination, couldn't get elected. Walter Mondale got the nomination, couldn't get elected. The one exception in about 150 years was George Bush's father, who got the nomination in 1988 and did get elected to one term.

Being vice president means that you can call on the loyalty of partisans, who are the people who control the nomination. They reward loyalty, like Gore's loyalty to Bill Clinton. Gave him the nomination. But then once the vice president gets the nomination, what does he discover? It is not a very good way to get elected president, because when people vote for president, they want someone who's independent, someone who is his own man or his own person. And that's very hard for a vice president to do.

Robert George, a few minutes ago mentioned the case of Richard Nixon who couldn't get elected in 1960 as Eisenhower's vice president. He had to wait for eight years, a period of, shall we say, recovery from the vice presidency. And finally in 1968, he got the nomination and he did get elected. He was no longer seen as Eisenhower's man. So it's possible Gore could be waiting for a period of recovery from the handicaps of a vice president.

WHITFIELD: Oh, interesting. And so, Bill, the skeptic in many of us has to wonder, well, with all of this publicity recently, as you mentioned, the book tour, being on "SNL" last night, and being very outspoken against the Bush administration's policies on war and the economy, that he has to be up to something. If not the presidency, which we know now, he has got to be up to something.

SCHNEIDER: He wants to be a major voice, certainly in the Democratic Party. And my guess is he hadn't really decided what he intended to do. And all these activities were a way of keeping his options open. He was doing everything consistent with running for president, so that if in the end he decided to run, he'd be prepared to do it right away. He probably didn't make that decision until the last week or so.

The "New York Times" had a story a few days ago that he might be inclined against running for president. So right now, as we say, the field is wide open, but let me tell you something, when I talk to Democrats and my sources, usually off the record, and I ask ordinary Democrats, who do they really want to see run for president, what Democrat is really first in their hearts, it's someone who I do not think will run for president this time, but the candidate they really want is Hillary.

Hillary Clinton, the senator from New York. She promised the voters of New York she wouldn't run in 2004, and I think she'll stick to that promise. But if the Democrats do not win in 2004, I think she'll be around in 2008.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, stick around. We want to bring our congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl, who is joining us now. And Jonathan, it must have been particularly liberating perhaps for Al Gore to get on "Saturday Night Live" -- I hate to keep giving them the publicity on this -- but everyone is still talking about the display of humor from Al Gore. It had to be very liberating to do that, knowing that he was going to make this announcement, or that announcement would be officially made today.

KARL: Yeah, he sure seemed relaxed last night.

You know, what was interesting about the "Saturday Night Live" appearance is the opening skit. He took a real shot, a real funny shot but a shot nonetheless at John Kerry and at John Edwards and at Joe Lieberman, about -- with the skit depicting how the three of them were groveling, kind of like the show "The Bachelor," groveling to try to get Al Gore to pick any of them, each one of them as his running mate in 2000.

Of course, that was exactly who Al Gore was looking at. He was looking at that group, that group of those three.

What is interesting here, and by the way, actually, you know, our Dana Bash, CNN's Dana Bash, talked to a senior adviser to Lieberman a short while ago, and this adviser said that Lieberman will probably, quote, "take a deep breath" and "mull this over" before coming out and making an announcement on his plan. Again, Lieberman is one who has made it very clear in the past that when Al Gore gets out, he is going to look very seriously at running.

So we'll be looking, that will be one of the most important things to look for, what happens with Joe Lieberman.

We have a wide open field now, though. I mean, Al Gore was going to be the giant, the 800-pound gorilla in all of this, the person that any other Democrat who wanted the nomination was going to have to knock off. And now he's gone. There really isn't a leading candidate.

WHITFIELD: Well, you know, it's interesting, Jonathan, because our Candy Crowley talked to one of her sources who said that Joe Lieberman is meeting with potential campaign managers about a statement, about releasing a statement. So we're still maybe days, if not even weeks, away from hearing something official from Joe Lieberman.

KARL: Yes. But he's really telegraphed his choice, though. I mean, he's talked quite candidly about his interest in running for president. So it won't be a shock to see him throw his hat in the ring here.

WHITFIELD: All right. What are your sources telling you about just the level of anticipation now and how everyone is waiting, I guess everyone when I talk about those potential Democratic leaders, who want to throw their support behind any one of these candidates whose names are being tossed out, they're kind of waiting to see what the reaction of the American public might be, perhaps, from the announcement officially made from Al Gore's lips this evening.

KARL: Certainly. And one key group in all of that are the Democratic operatives. Many of whom who had advised Gore in the past, they were keeping their options open in terms of going to work for him. Now that he is out of this, the question will be, who do they jump to. And there is going to be a big competition among these Democrats, among the Democrats who want to run for president, to get the people that were part of the Gore operation. And that's going to be, it's like the early primary, they call it the invisible primary, it's going to be the effort of trying to get the early position, and get the people, get the resources, get the organization that was there waiting in case Al Gore decided to run.

And it's -- it really changes the dynamics completely of this race. I mean, the Democratic primary was going to be about Al Gore, it was going to be about whether or not the party wanted to go to Al Gore or to go to a fresh face. And now he's gone, and you have got this vast field of Democrats.

Already it's very clear, really what happens now with Democrats who want to run, people like Dick Gephardt, and John Edwards, John Kerry, people that have not formally announced they're going to run. Kerry has announced an exploratory committee, but he hasn't formally announced he's going to run. Really it's a question now of trying to figure out when and where they make their announcement with the most impact. Because these folks have been working, have been preparing, have made it very clear that they want to run for president.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jonathan. Let me bring in Robert George from the "New York Post" in Washington and bring him back with us now. Joining us there from the bureau there. You heard Jonathan say, that already John Kerry has launched an exploratory committee. Is that pretty much a shoe-in to the next step being very close to making a serious announcement?

GEORGE: Well, you know, it's -- my history isn't perfect on this, but I'm trying to think of somebody who actually fully opened up an exploratory committee and then explored and decided, no, I'm not going to do it. We have had a few people that said that they were thinking about doing it and looking around here and there, but I've never really heard somebody that opens an exploratory committee and then backs away from it. So it's basically, I think, it's a lock cinch that Kerry is in.

I will say this, though, that after Joe Lieberman, I would think that maybe the second person in politics who is happiest about this announcement today by Al Gore is probably the person he impersonated on "Saturday Night Live" yesterday, Trent Lott. Since everybody has been obsessing about him over the last few days and now he has gotten a few hours of respite because Gore is the main political story today and will probably lead the headlines tomorrow morning.

WHITFIELD: That's right, he definitely has stolen the headline for tomorrow.

Well, if Al Gore, or let me say if Joe Lieberman decides he's not going to run, and obviously it would have meant that Al Gore would have been throwing his support behind him, would these other potential candidates hope that Al Gore would throw his support towards them, or would they kind of want to distance themselves from him, given that it's likely that some other leading Democrats may have talked Al Gore out of running?

GEORGE: Yeah, it's interesting, because, you know, you now are looking at the whole Clinton-Gore years in a completely different light now. When it was happening, it was, you know, the great economy and peace and prosperity.

Now, obviously, we are in a time of war. And they're now kind of looking at some of the decision that were made then that, some of the decisions that were made and some of the decisions that weren't made in terms of national security. So it's not necessarily an automatic blessing that you're going to get, if you get the recommendation from Bill Clinton or Al Gore.

That said, knowing Al Gore, I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a decision himself not to endorse anybody and just let the primary season play out as it does.

WHITFIELD: All right, Robert, let's bring in Candy Crowley who's on the telephone with us again, calling from Bethesda. Candy, do you see that, you know, perhaps it's likely that Al Gore may not throw support to anyone as Robert was saying?

CROWLEY: I think it's probable. I think generally in primaries, the big guys stay out. Even, usually if it's a president and a vice president, then you know where they stand. But when it's a wide open field, there's no incumbent, Democrats and Republicans, for the most part, stay out of the primary. They probably are giving advice to their favorites over the phone. And it may be obvious in some cases who supports whom, but in general, they like to not do that in public.

WHITFIELD: Well, Candy, any final thoughts on where this race potentially is going?

CROWLEY: Well, that's the beauty of this. Now we don't know. Which is always what's so fun about politics.

I think that you will hear names that you've been hearing all along -- Lieberman, Edwards, Kerry, Gephardt, Dean. There are others who have sort of toyed with it, say that they're thinking about it, sort of, you can throw in Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, people like that. So you will be hearing a lot of names.

But here is the thing about the way the primary season is now set up. And mind you, we're talking a year from January when the primary season starts. They pretty much have to have their ducks in a row and their money raised by fall of this year. So if you're going to get in, you're going to hear a lot of announcements in January from these people. Maybe that sort of exploratory committee.

But, again, as you were told, that's generally just the first phase. And very few people do an exploratory committee and then step back. So lots of announcements in January, maybe even some yet this year.

WHITFIELD: Well, Candy, I suppose if there was a lot of relief that Al Gore may have felt last night when showing his funny side, that perhaps there's going to be an awful lot of relief this evening, once his announcement has been officially made on the air to the American public. You think?

CROWLEY: I think that for Al Gore, it was obvious last night, I was messaging back and forth with somebody who is fairly close to him, saying, you know, he seems really loose. And he absolutely did. I must say when I saw him in that wig doing the skit with fish, and the kids in the college room, and then doing the professor bit in the Willy Wonka takeoff, I thought I don't think he's running, because we're going to keep seeing that picture of him in a wig, and it won't be helpful.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Candy Crowley, for joining us on the telephone from Bethesda.

And of course a lot of us feel like we can't get enough of those funny sides, clips of Al Gore last night on the air. So let's take another look. We're going to take a short break and we'll be right back right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think we need to take these Social Security funds that people have worked so hard for, and keep them away from the volatility of the stock market.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I so totally agree.

GORE: These funds need to be protected, they need to be put aside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, in some kind of metaphorical...

GORE: Lockbox.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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