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Published: Wednesday, 12/18/2002

Gore opts out

Al Gore's decision not to renew his quest for the presidency in 2004 dramatically alters the dynamics of the next national election in a way that should benefit American voters all the way around.

By forestalling a rematch of the disputed 2000 contest, Mr. Gore has given new energy and purpose to Democrats, who have an emerging fleet of candidates. And Republicans are faced with having to run on George W. Bush's record as president, not simply against the other guy.

“Had Gore run,” a Democratic strategist told the Washington Post, “we would have been rehashing events from 1992 on through the disputed finale of the 2000 race and the Florida recount. Now the focus can be on the future.”

That may be wishful thinking, since Mr. Bush is already running - presidents almost never are not running - on his leadership in the war on terrorism. Riding a national swell of patriotism and anxiety, he will be tough to beat but, like his father before him, not unassailable.

Mr. Gore, an intelligent, capable man whose campaign persona always seemed skewed a notch toward too eager to please, realistically says that forgoing the 2004 race probably means he's out of the presidential picture for good. But he would be only 60 years old in 2008, plenty young enough to make a comeback if he maintains a national voice in public affairs.

If any example is needed, remember that Richard Nixon declared in 1962 that he was out of politics for good, yet he captured the White House six years later.

No fewer than nine Democrats have expressed interest in the 2004 nomination, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, of Connecticut, who had vowed not to run unless his ballot-mate dropped out. It's a wide-open field, which increases the chances for a broad discussion of issues - the economy, Social Security, budget deficits, as well as the nation's response to terrorism - in the coming year.

That's the good news. The bad news, for the politically averse anyway, is that the campaign already has started.

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