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Al Gore’s Californication


It’s taken a full week for the news to sink in but I guess it’s true: The “real” presidential primary season will begin before the Twelve Days of Christmas come to a close on Jan. 3 with the Iowa Caucuses. And the guy who’s going to get to give the big present in the prettiest box – a probably race-changing endorsement – will be former Vice President and current king-maker Al Gore.

These early primaries and caucuses are yet another another sign of how very badly everyone wants the Bush Administration to end. But the Iowa date along the expectation that the New Hampshire primary will move closer to the Thanksgiving holiday (they’re taking December) means California’s primary on February 5 is going to count. For real.

Right now, the tea-leaf readers say John Edwards will win Iowa. After all, he’s been living there for a year. Obama will come in second and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will be a close third. In New Hampshire, say the sages, Clinton and Edwards reverse positions. Obama’s idealistic followers hang with him throughout. In other words, the three Democrats will head into Feb. 5th primary needing big, big wins to seal their standing before the voters. Which means Gore’s endorsement could be a big, big deal.

California is a big, big win and since the state will – barring a miracle – break for Democrats in the general election next fall it’s the party to watch here. But California is also a state with big, big problems that cut across party lines and, as a result, creates the kind of political potholes that can derail a campaign.

The mortgage foreclosure crisis is just getting started here and it’s going to echo through the holiday season. Kicking folks out of their houses is never pretty. Kicking them out during the holidays, even worse. This isn’t hitting hard in San Francisco or the wealthy Silicon Valley suburbs but out in the towns and communities where working folks moved so they could afford a place to live it’s relentless. These are also, by the way, the communities – Tracy and Gilroy – where Iraqi war casualties are hitting the hardest.

The danger here for Democrats is promising too much to too many and ignoring the realities of international credit markets to score points or offending moderates by lumping the war and the lending crisis together to blame Republicans for all that’s bad.

In California, immigration isn’t all about Mexicans and South Americans. Remember, we have a governor who talks funny. In Northern California, immigration is closely tied to the U.S. relations with India and China which are this area’s life’s blood. Forget that – and it’s easy to do so since the rhetoric is all about supposedly lazy Mexicans – and you can get backed into nasty debates about out-sourcing, balance of trade and Pacific Rim economics where Democrats start to sound like union-loving protectionists or class-baiting populists.

Then there’s gay rights. California’s gay community is out, proud and loud and not above baiting candidates it doesn’t like. We’ve seen a little of this, so far, but we’ll see more. The gay community – rightly – wants to push the Democrats it supports toward a more open acceptance, across the party. California’s a good place to do that but promising too much can be dangerous.

Health care is another landmine. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to enact a package of reforms but it’s been slowing going. Interestingly, California reform efforts are being led by a Republican governor who’s efforts are being blocked by the Democratic state legislature.

And lastly, we have environmental issues. The fires sweeping through Southern California will be a stand-in for discussion about things green. And these days, green means Gore.

Gore’s won a Nobel prize and an Academy Award making him possibly the only man in the U.S. who can talk simultaneously to California’s two wealthiest – and political active – constituencies, science-minded Geeks and starry-eyed celebs.

Given the way the Democrats stand now, Gore will surely be asked to make an endorsement before – or close to – the California date and for Democrats, this will be the move to watch. In a race as tight as the party is expected to have coming into California, Gore’s good word may well make a candidate. Will he overcome his well-established dislike of the Clintons and back the Senator from New York? Or is Gore, his dislike of politics-as-usual (in part because of the Clintons) ready to endorse Sen. Barack Obama? What about John Edwards a fellow-southerner who’s going to suffer – mightily – as the Clinton campaign machine gears up in Iowa?

Gore’s a canny enough politician to hold his cards close until he needs to show them. But former President Bill Clinton is the one party in this conversation who, back in the White House, could pretty much grant any wish Gore might have, unlike the other candidates in the race. So really, when it comes to California’s primary, the question that ought to be asked is pretty simple: What’s Gore going to do?

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 12:19 PM | Permalink

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