In the wake of Barack Obama’s defeat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the Democrats have a huge problem. On the one hand, they have a front-runner who hasn’t won a single one of the major primary states other than his own, who’s a neophyte on the national scene, and who has enormous difficulties attracting the white, non–college educated voters he needs to win. On the other, there’s Hillary Clinton — a candidate who has greatly diminished her stature on the campaign trail, who faces huge liabilities of her own (in part because of her gender and in part because of Clinton fatigue), and whose chances of winning in November would require her to thread an Electoral College needle.
Furthermore, the long, bitter campaign has produced an untenable result: a large portion of each camp’s supporters now say they are unlikely to support the intra-party rival should their candidate not win the nomination.
Therefore, if the Democrats want to have their best chance to win an election in November that six months ago it looked like they couldn’t lose, they may have only one option at this point: they can turn to Al Gore.
In truth, Gore would be a stronger candidate in November than the two front-runners. He knows what it’s like to run in a tough presidential campaign, which, as we’re finding out with Obama, is a huge advantage. He is, after all, a Nobel Prize winner; he has the advantage of now running from outside Washington even though he’s as experienced as John McCain; and he might be able to pick off a Southern state or two. He’s already won once — with an asterisk. And he could put the electoral focus back on the economy and the Republican record of the past eight years — which it will rarely be as long as Clinton or Obama is the nominee.
Sure, Gore’s entry would obviously not be greeted with waves of enthusiasm by Obama supporters. Still, he is quite popular with one of the Illinois senator’s principal constituencies: the young.
Against all odds
It’s true that drafting a new candidate at this point would be unprecedented. But the virtually deadlocked race between the two remaining candidates makes it at least possible.
Several things would have to occur — and quickly. First, some senior Democrats — with the help, perhaps, of a former presidential candidate, such as John Edwards — would have to publicly urge Gore to make a run. It would help matters enormously if this group included former supporters of Clinton and Obama.
Second, though not required, a write-in campaign could be mounted in one of the remaining states, such as Kentucky or Oregon, on May 20, or Montana or South Dakota, on June 3. The advantage of Oregon is that, historically, at least one candidate — Jerry Brown in 1976 — ran a strong third there as a write-in.
The advantage of Kentucky, Montana, or South Dakota is that neither of the present front-runners looks particularly strong on paper in those contests. Furthermore, because those states are relatively small, a well-funded write-in campaign might have a chance to be successful. (Success in this case doesn’t mean winning, just doing “better than expected.”) The key, of course, is to raise the necessary money to mount such a campaign. But in the Internet age — with the right backing — it might be pulled off.