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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Al Gore Decides Not to Run for President in 2004

Aired December 15, 2002 - 17:32   ET

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

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. More now on this breaking story. Former Vice President Al Gore says thanks but no thanks to another run for the presidency. What do the Republicans in the White House seem to think about that announcement now? Let's find out from the White House in Washington with our own John King. John, any more, or anything now coming from anyone in the White House?
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Nothing at all out of the White House, Fredricka. They will let the former vice president, Al Gore, make it official before they have anything to say here. They do know, of course, and the president knows now that there will be no rematch of the hotly contested presidential election of the campaign year 2000.

Bush political aides have been split for weeks and months on whether Al Gore would run. Most thought that he would find it irresistible. They think here at the Bush White House that he would not be the best candidate because so much has changed since that election, but they also thought because he, himself, the former vice president, had said he felt robbed, that he felt he actually won the election and should have been the president of the United States and because he was such an overwhelming favorite in the early polls and would have such an edge if he were the candidate that he would find it irresistible to run.

So here at the Bush White House they will now have to step back and analyze the rest of the Democratic field. They have some time, of course. The president will be uncontested, at least certainly no major candidate will challenge President Bush in the Republican primaries. The Democrats now have to sort out what this means for them. That is the much bigger dynamic.

It's Sunday night in Washington, hard to get a pulse of this city on a Sunday night, but if you are Senator John Kerry, Senator Joe Lieberman, Congressman Dick Gephardt, this is a major development. Senator John Edwards, Senator Tom Daschle as well. The Democrats now have to decide what this means for them. That's the most dramatic impact of this statement in the short term.

Most of those affected saying they want to take a little time to think about it. We have contacted Congressman Gephardt's office. We're told by sources he is almost certain to run. They say they want to let the vice president make his decision official.

One senior adviser to Joe Lieberman, who is likely to run now, or at least likely to seriously consider running, said he wanted to take a deep breath and let all this settle in before Senator Lieberman had anything to say. So it is the Democrats who will be most impacted by this in the short term. But you can be certain they're curious and they will want to hear the former vice president's reasons here at the White House.

WHITFIELD: And John, this announcement now upstaging the Senate majority -- incoming Senate majority leader, Trent Lott mess, giving now the White House yet new food for thought. Something else in which to focus on now. And that is, what its strategy needs to be, and who they might be able to predict might be the front-running Democrats who are willing to throw their hats into the ring.

KING: Well, certainly, at least for an afternoon, it allowed Senator Lott refuge from all the discussion about his mistakes and his political fate that was happening on cable news programs and on network news programs. But the Democrats will have their internal political situation to sort out now that Al Gore is stepping aside. And this will not release the Republicans from their obligation, their political imperative of coming to grips with whether or not Senator Lott should remain the Senate Republican leader, and because of that, the Senate majority leader.

Many Senate Republicans now saying there has to be a meeting of the 51 members of the Congress. Some, including Lott's former top deputy, who's also a longtime rival, Senator Don Nickles, says he doesn't want only a meeting, he wants a new vote on whether Lott should be leader. So Senator Lott getting perhaps a few hours of respite tonight as we all now focus on Al Gore. But Senator Lott's headache hasn't gone away and he will be back in the news, of course, tomorrow when he goes on Black Entertainment Television, trying to explain his views on race relations and votes and comments that some, some say suggest he, perhaps, is racist or at least has racist tendencies -- Fredricka.

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

Let's talk more, now, not about Trent Lott but instead about Al Gore. And perhaps hear some of the names that are being thrown in to the potential candidacy. Bill Schneider is going to be joining me in a moment from Boston now to talk about some of the names. Howard Dean, John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. And Bill, I know you mentioned earlier, that perhaps Al Gore may not necessarily want to cozy up to anybody publicly, except, of course, Joe Lieberman.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and even there, Joe Lieberman was his running mate. But I think Al Gore may keep a distance even from Joe Lieberman, to say the Democrats have to make this decision for themselves.

There are some others who -- I think Tom Daschle was in Iowa, just on Friday. He's considering making a run for the presidency. Joe Biden might try to do it again. Al Sharpton, you didn't mention him, but he said quite clearly he intends to at least test the waters for the year 2004. There are lots of names out there. And you know what? There are likely to be more.

WHITFIELD:: And those are a lot of names that are well known names. And you made it very clear that there could be some surprises. There could be some who no one has heard about. And you talked about the very example of Bill Clinton. Who knew him? And look what happened.

SCHNEIDER: And Michael Dukakis from here in Massachusetts who certainly was not the front-runner going into the 1988 campaign. Gary Hart was the front runner going into 1988. Even at the end of 1987, Gary Hart, who had gone through the embarrassment of the Donna Rice episode and gotten back into the race, he was the front-runner in the polls. But yet Gary Hart, of course, did not do very well in Iowa or New Hampshire, and ended up being an also-ran in 1988. And Michael Dukakis seemed to come out of nowhere, because he did well in New Hampshire and became the party nominee in 1988. So this does happen, particularly when there's no imposing front runner, like Al Gore.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, and of the names we've been tossing about, we have got one of those people right on the telephone line with us now. Governor Howard Dean. And perhaps, Governor Dean, you can give us some insight as to whether this now kind of opens the door for you to get serious about any potential run for the presidency.

GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D), VERMONT: Well, I was pretty serious before. I think I'm actually the only candidate who is legally a candidate. I signed up for all the proper paperwork and a committee, a presidential campaign committee in May. So I'm in, and I have been in for a while.

What it does, of course, is makes sure there's no front runner. And there will be some of the better known senators will be ahead in the polls for a while, but it certainly does open up the party for new ideas that actually make sense. And I think perhaps taking the Democratic Party into different direction it's been going in.

WHITFIELD: What does this do for you and your fund-raising efforts?

DEAN: It'll help some, but there will still be a lot of senators, and senators have better fund-raising networks than governors from small states.

What it will do is differentiate me from the rest of the field. Al Gore and I, oddly enough, were in agreement on two things that everybody else has been with the president on. Neither Al Gore or I have supported the president's education bill, because it's such a big unfunded mandate. Every other person running voted for the bill. And Al Gore and I did not support the Iraq resolution. Every other person running for president supported that resolution.

So there will be some differences of opinion. And I think it's actually probably going to be helpful, because it does make me unique as a governor, unique as a physician, and taking unique positions that are outside the Beltway positions.

WHITFIELD: And Bill, you have a question for Governor Dean?

SCHNEIDER: It's Bill Schneider. You just mentioned taking the Democratic Party in a direction other than the way it's been heading in recent years. What direction is that?

DEAN: I think what we've seen is a lot of people from inside the Beltway, and most of those are still going to run, who are trying to be almost as Republican as the president. And I've maintained that we ought to stand up for our traditional values. We ought to be fiscally conservative, which the Republicans are not, and we ought to work for a universe health care program, which neither party has done in recent years. And I'd like to see a new direction in the Democratic Party that stands up for children, that stands up for middle class people, that talks about the tax cuts as being as a folly that they are, and that supports a strong fiscal policy, which we, again, have not seen from folks who voted for these long-term deficits.

SCHNEIDER: Well, governor, Al Gore recently made some headlines, attracted some attention by saying that he had changed his mind on health care and now he supports a single-payer health care system. Do you?

DEAN: No. That, you know, my health care positions are based on 11 1/2 years as governor, where we essentially have everybody under 18 in our state with health insurance. But we did that by expanding the existing health system. One of the lessons the Democrats have learned is we are not going to have a big government program to change the health system. But I think we needn't be so timid as to argue over things like the patient's bill of rights, when we ought to be talking about health care for every American. The system that I have basically expands Medicare, Medicaid and the employer based system, so that the old Harry and Louise ad, which scared the daylights out of everybody, won't be effective anymore, because everybody could keep their health insurance that they have now, if they like.

SCHNEIDER: One question that a lot of people raise about your candidacy is you signed the gay civil unions bill in Vermont.

DEAN: That's right.

SCHNEIDER: ... which a lot of people say makes you a non-starter if you were ever to get the nomination.

DEAN: I don't think that's true.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans would just tear you apart.

DEAN: I think most Americans are looking for a fiscal conservative that's not there in the field now. And, B, my position on guns is different than everybody else's. I think that that's a state matter, not a federal matter.

C, I believe that most Americans think that everybody ought to be treated equally. I signed a civil unions bill, because it gives gay and lesbian people the same rights as everybody else. Insurance rights, hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights. I don't think most Americans have a big problem with treating all Americans equally.

SCHNEIDER: You are from a neighboring state to New Hampshire, as is John Kerry. John Kerry is leading in the polls in New Hampshire; you are running in single digits. Oughtn't you be doing better in New Hampshire, the neighboring state?

DEAN: Well, John has the fortune of being within 15 miles of 65 percent of the Democratic voters, so he will be the front-runner in New Hampshire, and there is no question about that. But I think in the end, issues matter in New Hampshire, and certainly, I hope to be challenging John in New Hampshire.

WHITFIELD: And governor, something else the other candidates or potential candidates have over you, is the name recognition, not just on domestic matter, but international as well. When we talk about Kerry, Daschle, Lieberman, et cetera. What do you do from this juncture forward to try to get your name, your product, your stamp out there to become a household name just like the others?

DEAN: That's correct, but that's what the campaign is for. I'm fortunate to have traveled in 51 countries in the last many years. And so that does give me some insight into foreign policy.

I think I'm also the only candidate that's willing to challenge the president on his stewardship of national security. For example, I can't imagine why he left the Yemeni missiles aboard that freighter, and allowed more dangerous arms to be introduced into an unstable region of the country. I would have simply taken the missiles and given the Yemenis the money back but said we are not going to allow these kinds of arms.

I think the president has been far too willing to defend the Saudis, who are funneling money to Hamas, which is causing terrorism and children to be murdered in Israel. Far too acquiescent in terms of oil policy. There's no renewable energy policy in this country, and that affects our foreign policy in a very bad way.

Furthermore, being a physician, it allows me some insight into the bioterrorism problem that we've had. So I think I will be able to hold my own both on issues of national security and foreign policy.

SCHNEIDER: Governor, Senator Kerry has called on Trent Lott to resign his position as majority leader, incoming majority leader of the United States Senate. Do you agree with that?

DEAN: Yeah, I also called on Senator Lott to step down as majority leader. I think the president of the United States is going to have a very difficult time trying to convince all Americans that he is the president of all Americans when the second-highest elected official in the Republican Party avows segregationist views, or at least champions individuals who have been segregationists, particularly this isn't the first time Senator Lott has been involved in this kind of a controversy. Voting against the Martin Luther King Day, these kinds of things are not good for the country. And I think that the senator probably ought to step aside and let somebody else be majority leader, who can represent the interests of all Americans. WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, Vermont Governor Howard Dean and CNN political analyst Bill Schneider. We're going to take a short break right now. We'll be right back.

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