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Al Gore Expected to Endorse Howard Dean

Aired December 9, 2003 - 08:09   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: First came the Internet, then came the union support. The financial backing has been out there and now Al Gore expected to endorse Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, to be the next Democratic nominee to take on George Bush for the White House about 11 months from now, in November of 2004.
The announcement expected any moment, live in Harlem here in New York City.

Jeff Greenfield now checks in early morning after a late night tonight -- nice to see you, Jeff.

I've yet to hear anyone say that this was expected.

Have you?


HEMMER: That's right.

GREENFIELD: If you, in looking back -- and hindsight is always 20-20 in politics -- a couple of things are clear. One, Al Gore has been involved with some of the Internet based groups, one,, that helped organize...


GREENFIELD:, sorry. This, that organizing thing.



The second thing that's interesting, he's expressed regret for the way his campaign was conducted and the way he conducted himself. And he has said publicly if he had it to do over again, he'd get rid of all those consultants and inside the beltway advisers and speak from the heart. And you can almost see, as Al Gore looks at the Dean campaign, a sense of gee, maybe if I had had that kind of organization, I'd have had a better, you know, result.

And the third thing I would mention, and I'm not being flip -- Jack Cafferty read us an e-mail about somebody who said well, of course Gore likes an Internet based campaign, he invented the Internet -- but in fairness to Gore, he was always involved in the public policy that built the Internet. Now he looks at a campaign who used it to raise unprecedented sums of money and says -- and organization -- and says, you know, the thing that I helped birth, if you accept that, has produced this campaign.

One more quick point. Howard Dean's problem a month ago was OK, I've got a lot of people behind me. What about the base of the party? What about African-Americans? What about labor unions? What about people who might think I'm a little off center, as a Vermont ex- governor?

He has two big union supports now, the two big public employee unions. He has substantial African-American support beginning to build. Jesse Jackson, Jr., the head of the Congressional Black Caucus. Now, Al Gore, who got 90 percent of the black vote, is going up to Harlem to put his imprimatur around him, a kind of the ultimate insider saying to the ultimate outsider, you know, you're my guy.

For all of the conversation that this was about trumping Hillary Clinton, this was about positioning himself for 2008, maybe 2024, I think we should keep focused on this race and see it for what it is. It is not decisive, nobody's voted yet. You know, we should keep that in mind. This is a big deal. In primary politics, endorsements can, at the right time, help a lot, and I think this campaign endorsement puts Dean, you know, a good step or two closer to being...

HEMMER: It must add another notch in his political belt? Add another notch?

GREENFIELD: Well, you've had -- you had a more interesting social life than I've had, obviously. But, yes...

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I was going to say that.


O'BRIEN: But you went ahead and said that.

HEMMER: I've got a few years, though, so hang with me.

GREENFIELD: That's true. That's true. But I think that's right. This is, you know, this is a way of saying I don't believe the unelectability issue, I don't believe that he's not a real Democrat -- that's Dick Gephardt's biggest charge against Howard Dean -- he is a real Democrat, Gore is saying, and he can win.

So whatever you think about motives and oh, he really doesn't think he can win, it's all about 2008, yes. This was a major political -- for once, the political press is not over hyping the story. This is a big deal.

HEMMER: All right, we'll get it in a couple of minutes.

Jeff, thanks.

Hang out with us.

GREENFIELD: OK. HEMMER: Appreciate it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, stick around, so that when this announcement happens, which we're expecting any minute, we can to talk about it, get a little analysis after the fact.

So what does Al Gore's decision to back Howard Dean mean for the campaign of his former running mate, Joe Lieberman?

Joining us this morning from Washington is Senator Lieberman's campaign director, Craig Smith.

Good morning, Mr. Smith.

Nice to see you.

Thanks for joining us.


O'BRIEN: How are -- how surprised are you -- or I should say really now were you -- when you first heard of this announcement?

SMITH: Well, the first we heard about it is when we saw it on the news. And we were somewhat surprised by the fact that we didn't get any advanced notice of it. But we knew that we had to work for Al Gore's endorsement, just like every other candidate did. We never took it for granted. And he chose to endorse somebody else and we will go on.

O'BRIEN: The fact that you didn't get any advanced notice, what do you read into that? As an outsider, that seems a little bit strange to me. There was no indication that the former vice president and -- Al Gore and Senator Lieberman disliked each other.

Is that what people should take away from this lack of notice?

SMITH: No, I don't think anybody should take that away from it. I just think, you know, the vice president made a decision. He decided to go forward in the manner he chose to go forward and we will all live with it.

O'BRIEN: You were the first campaign manager for Al Gore back in 2000.

Why do you think he's made the decision that he is making and going to announce, we're expecting, any minute now?

SMITH: You know, I don't -- I don't -- I couldn't tell you what the vice president's thought process was or analysis was. You know, I'm working and running Joe Lieberman's campaign this time. There are nine other candidates -- either other candidates in this race. I have a hard enough time keeping up with them.

O'BRIEN: We just heard from Jeff Greenfield. He's saying that what he believes Al Gore is saying is that he thinks Howard Dean can win. A pretty clear statement there.

Do you think that that's what Al Gore is saying with this endorsement?

SMITH: Well, you know, I don't know. You know, elections aren't about what the pundits or the D.C. insiders or what the politicians say. It's about what the voters say. And the voters haven't had a chance to say anything in this race.

You know, I worked on the Clinton campaign and in 1991 people were saying a lot of the same things they're saying this morning on your show about Bill Clinton -- he can't win, his poll numbers are bad. But at the end of the day he did. Voters get to decide who gets to be president, not D.C. insiders and pundits.

O'BRIEN: How does this forthcoming announcement -- and, again, we're expecting it any moment now -- how does that affect your campaign? What changes today for you?

SMITH: Well, I think it helps crystallize this race. I mean Joe Lieberman and Howard Dean have two different visions for the future of this country and for the future of this party. You know, Joe Lieberman wants to build on Bill Clinton's legacy, with strong national security issues, with a pro-growth economic policy, being socially progressive.

Howard Dean, in many ways, wants to take the party back -- raise taxes on the middle class, to send ambivalent messages about national security.

And it presents a stark contrast for voters out there as to what direction they want to take this country and this party.

O'BRIEN: We want to take a look at some poll numbers now.

The front runner status of Howard Dean pretty well secured in this most recent poll that comes from CNN, "USA Today" and Gallup. Twenty-five percent of registered Democrats support Dean. He's at the top. Retired General Wesley Clark in second, with 17 percent. Senator Lieberman fourth place, with just 10 percent.

What's the strategy? At this point, is the senator considering dropping out, withdrawing?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely not. Not a single voter has cast a vote here. You know, if polls got to pick presidents, this race would have been over a long time ago. We're going to wait and let the voters decide. The New Hampshire primary is coming up, I believe 54 days from now. Voters get to choose presidents here, not polls, not pundits, not politicians, not D.C. insiders.

O'BRIEN: The debate tonight, what's the strategy? What does Senator Lieberman have to do, in your mind, in order to change these numbers?

SMITH: Well, I think in every debate the strategy for each candidate is always the same. You've got to get your message through, let the American public know what you stand for and present the contrasts between your candidacy and the other people's candidacy. And we will do that tonight, as we distinguish ourself and our positions from Howard Dean and Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt and John Kerry, as we've done in all the previous debates.

O'BRIEN: All right, Craig Smith is the campaign director for the Lieberman campaign.

Thanks for joining us this morning with your insight.

SMITH: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it.

Let's go back to Jeff Greenfield now.

HEMMER: Yes, before we get to Jeff, quickly, Kelly Wallace standing by up in Harlem -- Kelly, what more do you have for us?

Still waiting for that announcement there?

WALLACE: We are, Bill. We believe, believe that Howard Dean and Al Gore are inside the building here. We're trying to confirm that at the moment. This is the National Black Theater's Institute for the Action Arts up here in Harlem. And what will happen, just moments from now, Howard Dean and Al Gore coming here to make it official, as we've seen saying, the Dean campaign has not been confirming this and Howard Dean himself very coy last night, saying that he could not confirm or deny that this would be happening.

But then the two men will shuttle off very, very quickly, we are told, heading to Iowa. Again, this will be weeks before the kickoff contest there in January. And what we are talking to people here -- you have African-Americans, you have other members of the New York City City Council. They are all saying this is a very significant moment because what this does is it could encourage, in their view, other leaders of the Democratic Party to close around Howard Dean -- Bill.

HEMMER: Kelly, thanks.

Kelly, stand by with us there in Harlem and we'll get back to you in a moment here.

But, Jeff Greenfield, again, continues to ride shotgun with us here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Jeff, we want to bring you back in and talk about the four letter word that's going to continue to come out of this campaign going forward. That's Iraq.

You were on last night with Aaron and Candy Crowley. John King is reporting from the White House that several months ago Al Gore made this speech that really tickled the fancy of Howard Dean. It was very liberal and it was very anti-war. Over the next 11 months, can he run a campaign that's anti-war in Iraq and win?

GREENFIELD: To me, this is one of those areas where, as Craig Smith was saying, not only do insiders and pundits and everybody else not matter, but even presidents of the United States and their opponents don't. This is going to be determined by events on the ground. I mean the public, if history is a guide, the public begins to turn against the conducted of a war, at least Americans do, when it becomes attenuated, when the casualties mount and when the purpose begins -- gets a little muddied. And I don't think, I don't care how much money you have in a campaign and how smart your advisers are or how eloquent you are, if the war is seen to have turned badly, then what happens -- we've see it with Korea and Vietnam -- the public begins to take a retrospective look and say why did we get involved in the first place?

If things stabilize, if the promise of the Bush administration that they can bring democracy to Iraq and stability takes hold, he gets powerful points.

And, you know, it is absolutely true that Gore, who was one of the most hawkish people within the Clinton White House, one of the few Democrats to support the first Gulf War, that the first George Bush fought in '91 -- there were only 10 Democratic senators who backed that war -- turned, on this war was an opponent of the use of force very early, and that may be one of the things, as John King said, that brought him to Dean.

I have one more quick point. And you heard it, one of the tings that all the candidates agree on is that with nine candidates in the race, these debates are almost impossible to use as a station area to make your point. It's just too many people. They aren't debates, they are joint press conferences. They are posturing.

HEMMER: Sound bites.

GREENFIELD: And the fact is any one of these other candidates now trying to establish himself or herself as the undeemed faces the very simple prospect that there's eight other people on stage and it's, as a format, it's not the format's problem, there's too many people to do it.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a couple of questions about what we heard Craig Smith say?

First, he said this is a moment where the race is now crystallized, the difference between his candidate, Senator Lieberman, and Howard Dean.


O'BRIEN: In some ways, I think that goes against sort of conventional wisdom would be doesn't that kind of muddy the waters a little bit? I mean... GREENFIELD: Well, I think what he means -- and I'm not going to put words in Craig Smith's voice -- but what he means, we've known for some time, I think, that this race is going to come down to Dean versus somebody else, because Dean simply has too much money and support to go away unless he has one of those moments where he just implodes.

This is, I believe, we should mark today, we heard Craig Smith use the phrase "stark contrast." This is a phrase that is used in every presidential campaign. You're not allowed to say something about the other guys without using the phrase "stark contrast." And the problem for Lieberman and every other on Dean is how do you say I'm the alternative? That's what each of those people are going to be trying to establish in the debate tonight and in the weeks leading up to these early contests.

O'BRIEN: He seemed to shrug off any indication that there were some problems between the senator and Al Gore. And yet you even see today they're saying, you know, that, I think the quote was that Al Gore would not be a member...

GREENFIELD: Well, that's the good...

O'BRIEN: ... much less likely today to be a member of the senator's team.

GREENFIELD: Joe Lieberman does have a kind of puckish sense of humor.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he does.

GREENFIELD: But the statement that he issued last night could not have been more pointed. He said I have great respect for Al Gore. That is why -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- I withheld my decision on whether to run until he made his. And that was a way of saying thanks a lot, pal. I hurt my campaign a whole lot by delaying my announcement until I knew what you were going to do, and you repay me not only by endorsing somebody else, you didn't even, you know, you never call, you never write. You didn't even bother to have the courtesy of giving me a phone call to say Joe, I'm sorry, but I'm going the other way.

O'BRIEN: Just politics or just a message, you know, a sort of message sent?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think Lieberman's statement was a way, a pointed way of saying this was not a particularly graceful way of doing what you did. With the Gore thing, as I say, I think this is partly the fact that Al Gore has become a different kind of public personality since his loss. It was a very buttoned up kind of campaign, surrounded himself by consultants, measured almost every word. And the one time that he actually shone was, A, when he picked Lieberman; and, B, when he gave an acceptance speech that he wrote himself that was different from the -- from what we heard in Gore.

I think what Al Gore's saying is I'm a different kind of guy and Dean's my kind of campaign and my kind of candidate.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jeff.

Let's get a break right now.

Watching the picture in Harlem.

We expect that announcement at any moment.

When it happens -- as Kelly Wallace says, the two men are in the room -- we'll see them, we expect, anyway, any minute.


Back with more in Harlem, right after this.


HEMMER: We have grown in the Cable News Network. We're out here quite accustomed to political punctuality. Not the case so far today, though. Still waiting.

Here's Kelly Wallace again -- Kelly, what do you have?

WALLACE: That's right, Bill. Nothing going off exactly as scheduled. A little bit of an update for you.

We do know that Howard Dean, that's the former Vermont governor, is here in the building, but right now no one can confirm if the former vice president, Al Gore, has, in fact, arrived. We continue to be told this event should be happening just moments from now, so we are staying tuned.

Again, we will be waiting for the two men to come to this podium behind me. You have in this room probably more reporters, really, than participants at the event. There are some law makers from the New York City Council, the speaker of the New York City Council is here; other African-American law makers from this area. And, again, we'll be waiting to hear from the two men exactly why Al Gore is doing this and what significance he thinks this will mean for Howard Dean -- Bill.

HEMMER: And we will not allow our reporter to go very far.

Kelly, thanks.

We do anticipate any moment now for the endorsement to come through.

Before we get to that, let's get back to Jeff Greenfield here quickly.

There have been many comparisons drawn, a former governor out of the Northeast, out of Vermont, whether or not he can win right now at a time when the country feels that, well, there's a certain sense of nationalism that you can spot in certain corners of this country. I guess the question is this. When Howard Dean hits the campaign trail over the next 11 months, and if this momentum continues to go with him, is he the guy that can take on the White House and George Bush and beat him?

GREENFIELD: Well, you may remember some months ago Karl Rove, President Bush's political guru, was at a, up at a parade where Howard Dean was coming down. And Rove was quoted as saying, "Yes, that's the guy we want, Howard Dean."

There's certainly a feeling among some Republicans and some Democrats that Howard Dean is unelectable, he's too liberal, you know, the civil unions with gays.

On the other hand, there is an adage, you know, be careful what you wish for because you might get it.


GREENFIELD: I vividly remember the Carter White House celebrating Ronald Reagan's nomination in 1980 because they thought how can this ex-movie actor, this guy who's so conservative, win?

HEMMER: Right.

GREENFIELD: And the key to me was listening to Howard Dean in Florida this weekend talking a lot about veterans, how they are mistreated, how Bush wanted to cut combat pay before they changed them. So, Dean clearly knows he needs to move to that other side of the political red state/blue state thing. Whether he can do it, call me in 11 months.

HEMMER: You've got it.

Rob Reiner is in the room. He sponsored a fundraiser last night here in Manhattan for the former governor of Vermont, Howard Dean.

Let's get a break.

When we come back, though, we'll pick up on this thought that Howard Dean told CNN yesterday. He believes that there is more momentum right now within the Democratic establishment in this country than he has seen -- and he said this now -- since the early days of Bill Clinton's candidacy. And before that, he said he'd go back to the days of John F. Kennedy, when he was a candidate. Strong words from the front runner at this point.

A break here.

Back live in Harlem right after this.



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