(CNSNews.com) - Al Gore's decision not to run for president in 2004 comes as a relief to the crowded field of Democratic presidential hopefuls who were eagerly awaiting some decision from him.
In fact, Gore's indecision until now has kept a lot of donors and potential campaign staffers on hold, complained Craig T. Smith, a spokesman for Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was Gore's running mate in 2000.
Smith recently called Gore the "800-pound gorilla" who has frozen a lot of resources while making up his mind about whether or not to enter the 2004 presidential race.
Smith spoke last week at a Washington, D.C., conference hosted by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics and the National Journal publication, The Hotline.
Lieberman has said he will not run if Gore does, and now, with Gore out of the running, the way is clear for Lieberman to go for the top job on the Democratic ticket.
Meanwhile, Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), Senators Lieberman, Tom Daschle (S.D.), John Edwards (N.C.), and John Kerry (Mass.), and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, are in various stages of presidential campaign organizing, heading into the first quarter of 2003.
That first quarter will be crucial in term of securing donors and the support of party faithful, analysts say. Joel Johnson, a spokesman for Daschle, predicted that all potential Democratic candidates will be out-raised by President Bush and Republican interests. Thus, the presidential race will be "heavily weighted" against Democratic candidates, said Johnson.
Smith predicted that Bush would raise $250 million and decline matching federal funds, which come burdened with spending caps and an expiration date. "We're going to be at a serious disadvantage" if the eventual Democratic nominee accepts matching funds, Smith warned.
Bush will raise "unbelievable amounts of special interest money," predicted Steve Elmendorf, spokesman for Gephardt, who also cautioned against an "overemphasis" on money as the most important ingredient of success in 2004.
No candidate has the party nomination locked up, according to a new Hotline Bullseye poll of likely Democratic primary voters in the influential early primary/caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
In South Carolina, Gore garnered 51 percent support, with all other candidates hovering in single digits. But in Iowa, Gore had a plurality of 37 percent, compared to 17 percent for Kerry and 15 percent for Gephardt. And New Hampshire Democrats currently prefer Kerry (36 percent).
Nationwide, likely primary voters told pollsters in a Dec. 7-9 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that Gore is still their top choice (39 percent), followed by Kerry (13 percent). But Lieberman was the top pick without Gore in the race, a scenario that now looks set to unfold.
"I think it's open for a lot of people," said Smith.
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