MANCHESTER, N.H.--With a key party endorsement in hand, Vice President Al Gore '69 kicked off his undeclared presidential campaign yesterday with a rally in the nation's first primary state.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who decided only last month not to run for president and instead to concentrate on returning Democrats to power in the House, joined Gore at the rally to announce he would support his former colleague in the 2000 election.
Gore has not formally announced his candidacy but is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released yesterday. Only one other candidate--former senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey--is currently contesting Gore for the nomination.
In his speech, delivered in the sweltering auditorium of a Manchester art museum, the vice president set out the goals he said would be the foundation of a Gore presidency.
While Gore hammered home familiar Democratic themes of environmental protection and health care reform, he said education would be his top priority.
"We need not evolutionary but revolutionary change to public education," Gore said. He said the government should hire more teachers and reduce the national student-teacher ratio to 20 to 1.
Gore also said he would try to strengthen Medicare and Social Security programs.
About 300 spectators made their way through yesterday's snowstorm to the packed auditorium--a gathering that included locals, dozens of reporters and a contingent of Boston-area college Democrats, including the Harvard College Democrats.
"I was glad to see the show of solidarity between Gephardt and Gore," said Erin B. Ashwell '02, a member of the College Democrats who attended the rally. "I thought it was a good way to get people interested in his campaign."
After the rally, Gore and Gephardt left New Hampshire for another event in Iowa, where the first presidential caucuses will be held next year.
Throughout his speech, Gore tried to strike a balance between lauding the Clinton administration's record while differentiating himself from his boss.
He stressed that while he intended to follow Clinton's economic policies, in the future the country will "face entirely new challenges, and we need new answers."
Gore named urban sprawl and government waste as challenges he would address as president.
Gore avoided explicitly mentioning President Clinton's impeachment during his address, though he praised the speech Gephardt delivered on the morning of Clinton's impeachment as "the finest on the House floor I've heard."
In that speech, which came moments after incoming Speaker Robert Livingston (R-La.) announced his resignation, Gephardt called for politicians to "stop destroying imperfect people at the altar of an unobtainable morality."
At the press conference following the rally, Gore said he did not approve of Clinton's actions either.
"What the president did was terribly wrong, and I've said so repeatedly," Gore said.
Gephardt's endorsement, coming nearly a year before the actual primary, gives Gore a powerful ally within the Democratic Party. Gephardt is popular with labor interests and other traditional Democratic constituencies.
The two men have known each other since 1976, when they entered the House of Representatives in the same class.
They have clashed occasionally. Both ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988, after Gore had moved to the Senate, and Gephardt was an opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement Clinton signed in 1993.
At a speech at the ARCO Forum in December 1997, Gephardt attacked the Democratic leadership--and the Clinton administration--for trying to "market a political strategy masquerading as policy."
But Gephardt downplayed their differences yesterday, instead praising Gore as a principled family man.
"He's a wonderful human being, and we'd all be proud to have him as president of the United States," Gephardt said of his occasional rival. Gephardt called the vice president "a leader who has a vision for where our country needs to go now."
Gephardt left the presidential race Feb. 3 and has said he intends to concentrate on House races instead. The minority leader stands to become speaker if the Democrats can retake the House. Republicans currently hold a slim 11-vote advantage.
Gephardt's was not the only endorsement Gore picked up yesterday. Bill Shaheen, husband of New Hampshire Governor Jeanne Shaheen and Democratic Party stalwart, announced he would be Gore's state chair for the 2000 race.