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Al Gore wraps his arms around Barack Obama

June 16, 2008 |  7:47 pm

Al Gore unquestionably has taken to heart his role as an elder statesman -- he stayed so far above the fray of the Democratic presidential race that the fray was fast becoming an afterthought when he finally bestowed his imprimatur on Barack Obama today.

As Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune aptly put it in a blog post on the none-too-surprising endorsement, call Gore "nothing if not cautious."

Former Vice President and Nobel Proze winner Al Gore bestows his political blessing on presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama Gore joined Obama tonight at a rally in Detroit. Before that, he previewed on his website and in an e-mail his embrace of his party's presumptive presidential nominee. He also urged, for the first time, members of AlGore.com to donate to a political campaign -- as if Obama needs any help on that front.

Obama can use help in more fully binding Democrats behind his candidacy after his prolonged battle with Hillary Clinton.

A recent Gallup Poll found him drawing support from 78% of those who share his party registration; by comparison, exit polls showed John Kerry captured 86% of the Democratic vote in the 2004 presidential election.

Most analysts expect Obama's share of the Democratic vote to increase as the campaign progresses, and Gore's moves today could slightly accelerate that process. If committed Democrats agree on anything, it's that the 2000 election was stolen from Gore, and in the years since that has made him a rallying point.

As the former vice president himself wryly (and ruefully) put it tonight, "Take it from me, elections matter."

Still, if Gore sounded most of the expected notes in his speech -- blasting, on issues large and small, what he termed the "incompetence, neglect and failure" of the Bush administration -- there was one omission that may not go unnoticed in certain quarters: a direct mention of either of the Clintons.

He made an indirect reference to Hillary as he sang the praises of the year's Democratic presidential field. And he seemed to be setting up a nod to her husband ...

in a riff about Republican attacks on the supposed immaturity and inexperience of a Democratic White House contender.

The lines he quoted -- similar to criticisms directed at Obama -- were used in 1960 against John F. Kennedy, Gore noted. All well and good, given the extended effort the Obama camp has made to link him to JFK.

But comparable barbs were directed during the 1992 campaign at Bill Clinton (who at the time was a year younger than Obama is now). Gore, of course, would well remember such reproofs; part of his job as Clinton's running mate was to rebut them.

And some Clintonistas who happened to catch his speech on a cable news network had to be thinking Gore would draw that parallel -- and then must have wondered why he did not.

Many of those who covered the 2000 presidential race believe it would not have come down to a disputed recount in Florida if Gore had been more willing to stress the accomplishments of the Clinton administration and utilize the then-president's campaign skills.

But he was determined eight years ago to separate himself from his political benefactor. And apparently that attitude persists.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Associated Press

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