Congressional Democrats Troubled by Gore

By Bob Melvin | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Two influential Democrats on Capitol Hill said that Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign is groping for identity and might weaken the party's attempt to recapture the House unless immediate focus is given to that campaign.

Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) said that local officials across the nation had voiced concern that the Gore campaign displayed no confidence or enthusiasm.

"People are starting to ask: 'When does he get started? When does he get focused? How did Bush catch up? When does the show hit the road?,'" Rangel said in an interview Tuesday.

"They're saying, 'If this is a policy to lay back and wait for the debates, then share it with somebody!' There are no fiery speeches being given. We don't have the surrogates out there," Rangel said.

Meanwhile, Senator Robert G. Torricelli (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Democrats' Re-Election Committee, conceded Wednesday that "there is a problem" with Gore and his presidential campaign.

"Until Al Gore actually goes to Los Angeles and receives his party's nomination and campaigns in his own right, he will still be identified by most Americans as Bill Clinton's vice president. There is still not a separate identity, and only the dramatic departure from Los Angeles is going to create this new identity," Torricelli said.

Rangel and Torricelli, as well as other Democrats, state that they were concerned Texas Governor George W Bush, the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, had made better use of the post-primary season than had Gore.

Democrats say they also worry that the Gore campaign does not seem to be responding to recent polls that show Bush leading among the American voters and Gore losing support among broad segments of the public, including suburban women, white men and every age group except the elderly.

As a recent guest on the "Diane Rehm Show" on public radio station WAMU in Washington, DC, Gore said, "I think the dialogue on complex issues often takes time. It takes time for facts to emerge, for judgments to sink in, for people to really come to a conclusion about how they feel about the candidates, about the positions on the issues and about where we're going in the future."

Rangel and Torricelli say Gore still has plenty of time to recover. Rangel emphasized that some key Democrats at the national, state and local levels have expressed concern about the Gore campaign, not alarm.

"This is May. When the question (of Gore's campaign being in trouble) gets raised (with campaign officials), they say no one gets serious until Labor Day," Rangel said.

Torricelli concurred with Rangel, saying, "It is both manageable and, I suspect, temporary."

Gore supporters say they fear their candidate, in his campaign against Bush so far, has been more reactive than proactive.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) feels Gore has ceded the spotlight to Bush over the last month.

"His poll numbers flow directly from his disappearance from the radar screen for a number of weeks while Bush pressed the 'on' button and kept himself on the screen," Norton said.

Representative Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) said he thinks Gore has failed to capitalize on his victory over former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley in the primary. "We're seeing slippage, and that's disappointing," he said.

American University professor James A. Thurber, Director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at that school, says Gore seems to have trouble articulating his campaign message. Thurber stated that he feels, after a quarter century in politics, Gore still does not have a firm grasp on some of the fundamentals of political communication.

Steve Grossman, a former national chairman of the Democratic Party, said, "He (Gore) obviously has to do an even more effective job at articulating his values and his priorities and connecting passionately to voters."