Person of the Week: Al Gore

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STAN GILLILAND/AP

Al Gore announces his decision not to run for president in 2004

Al Gore is back in the spotlight, although perhaps not in the way he'd once imagined. Ending months of speculation, the former Vice President and erstwhile presidential candidate appeared on "60 Minutes" Sunday night to announce he would not seek his party's nomination in 2004. With Gore and his baggage out of the picture, the race for Democratic Party nomination lost any hint of gallantry. No longer required to stand by while Gore either claimed or abandoned his spot on the ticket, the Democrats' abundant field of hopefuls expanded further to include a broad political spectrum, from conservative (Connecticut's Joe Lieberman) to moderate (Massachusetts' John Kerry) to liberal (Vermont's Howard Dean). Although many of us are still recovering from the 2000 election cycle, President Bush's would-be challengers are already drafting their stump speeches; the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, after all, are a mere 13 months away.

The decision not to run, Gore says, took shape over many weeks and months, taking into account several factors, not the least of which was the last campaign's toll on his personal life. Then there were the political considerations: many, including Gore himself, insist the only way the Democrats — and the rest of the country — can escape the memory of the 2000 election is by crafting an entirely fresh ticket. And there are Democrats to whom the idea of bringing Gore back for another round was tantamount to surrender to a Bush reelection drive.

Meanwhile, as the two-time presidential candidate is still flicking the settling dust from his shoes, those who would replace Gore are lining up to ask for his endorsement. Ironically, the man who was seen as a long shot to beat Bush is being held up as the "get" of the pre-election warm-up. Lieberman, Kerry and North Carolina's John Edwards have each asked Gore for his support, and he has gone out of his way to heap praise on Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, both of whom are also entertaining the idea of running. Who will Gore back? For the moment, anyway, the former candidate is playing coy. "It's really early to make any kind of accurate assessment of what their strengths and weaknesses, respectively, will turn out to be," he told reporters this week.

Is Gore, who says he decided against running for the collective benefit of the country, his party and his family, experiencing a few pangs of regret? Perhaps, but to his credit, you'd never know it to watch his almost jovial exchanges with the press this week. After carrying the burden and the stigma of the 2000 election for more than two years, Gore looks like a man who finally has other, infinitely more important things to worry about.