Gore prepares to weigh in on environmental issues


WASHINGTON - Democrat Al Gore is laying the groundwork for a possible political comeback - an effort given new urgency by his party's control soon of the U.S. Senate in the wake of the party-switch by Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont.

Gore, winner of the popular vote in November but loser of the electoral vote, is preparing to end his self-imposed silence on politics and begin discussing the issues of conservation and environmental protection that energized his 24-year career in the House, Senate and vice presidency.

Gore "has done what everyone else would do after the campaign and the post-election recount - spend time with loved ones," says Chris Lehane, a former White House official who served as Gore's traveling press secretary during his presidential bid.

Gore's return from the political wilderness comes as Democrats regain control of the Senate, a development that promises to award the political limelight to potential rivals for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

Gore has completed college teaching assignments in New York, Tennessee and Los Angeles and "has remained quiet out of respect for the presidency and what is best for the country," Lehane said. "But the time for that is quickly coming to an end. People are asking him to speak on these issues."

Gore will address an audience in his native Tennessee on June 12 when he accepts an annual award given by the southeast region of the Anti-Defamation League for fighting discrimination.

Lehane said Gore's decision to return to policy debates does not signal plans to seek the 2004 Democratic nomination.

"I think it will probably take some time and distance to evaluate everything," he said. "I think what he wants to do in the meantime is to keep as many options open as possible."

Lehane said he expected Gore to help raise money for Democrats running for the House and Senate in 2002, as well as campaign with them around the country.

Gore explained this month that his public silence was a way "to help the country come together and move forward" after the protracted election battle. "I decided to observe a period where I would not enter the public arena to criticize what the new president was doing. The time will come when that will feel appropriate."

Meanwhile, Gore has taken steps to bolster his ties with prospective supporters in 2004. He was the host at a reception to thank former campaign staffers at a popular Washington microbrewery Thursday night and has supped with loyal campaign donors at a series of intimate dinners across the country.

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