DETROIT - Former Vice President Al Gore made his season debut on the presidential campaign here yesterday evening, offering a vigorous endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama as he urged all Democrats to rally behind the party's candidate.
Speaking at a campaign fundraiser that preceded a rally that drew thousands of supporters to a downtown arena, Gore ticked through a long list of challenges facing the nation. He hailed Obama as "clearly the candidate best able to solve these problems and bring change to America."
Gore later appeared with the Democratic presidential candidate last night at a raucous rally at Detroit's Joe Lewis Arena. His speech was part endorsement, part blistering attack on President Bush.
Gore said Obama can lead the country past "eight years of incompetence, neglect and failure." He said Bush, who defeated him in the 2000 election, dishonored and disrespected the Constitution and made the worst foreign policy mistakes in the nation's history.
Gore had purposefully stayed on the sidelines during the long Democratic primary fight. He announced his decision to endorse Obama yesterday afternoon in a message to supporters on his vast e-mail list. Their appearance at the Joe Louis Arena here touched off a flurry of curiosity among Democrats gathered in the crowd, with many quietly wondering if Gore would be on Obama's list of prospective running mates.
The decision to stage the appearance in Michigan underscored the importance of the state for Obama. It was also in Michigan that former Sen. John Edwards unveiled his endorsement of Obama in a surprise setting. The state, a general election battleground, was one of the few places where Obama did not campaign during the primary because of a dispute with the Democratic National Committee over the delegates.
"Over the past 18 months, Barack Obama has united a movement," Gore wrote to his supporters, asking them to join Obama's campaign. "He knows change does not come from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. or Capitol Hill. It begins when people stand up and take action."
Since Obama opened his presidential bid in January 2007, the two have talked frequently, including in a private meeting last fall at Gore's Nashville, Tenn., home. Obama said yesterday that the former vice president had been helpful throughout the primaries, lending his ear and his thoughts, but always taking care to stay impartial in the Democratic race.
"It means a lot, obviously," Obama said. "We've had ongoing conversations about a whole host of issues, a lot of them have revolved around issues of climate change and energy and the environment. He's provided good political advice."