NEW YORK — Al Gore is waging a fierce campaign for recognition and an Oscar statuette for his global warning documentary, while reviving talk that he's pursuing a bigger prize: the presidency.
His recent itinerary has been the ultimate in high-profile. The former vice president made self-deprecating jokes on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," offered ideas on preserving the environment to Oprah Winfrey and her daytime audience and parried questions on Iraq from Matt Lauer on "The Today Show."
This Saturday Gore is hosting a network of 1,600 house parties across the country to watch and discuss his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," with the Democrat planning to address the gatherings by satellite hookup. The movie is on the short list of feature-length documentaries being considered for Oscar nominations.
No plan to return to politics - for now
Crisscrossing the country to promote the DVD version of the movie - just in time for holiday gift-giving - Gore insists that he's not planning a return to politics.
"I am not planning to run for president again," Gore said last week, arguing that his focus is raising public awareness about global warming and its dire effects. Then, he added: "I haven't completely ruled it out."
Those words make Gore the 800-pound non-candidate of the Democratic field. The possibility of another presidential bid delights many Democrats still steamed over the disputed 2000 election, in which they argue a few more votes, a state other than Florida and a different Supreme Court could have put Gore, not George W. Bush, in the White House.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the front-runner, but a polarizing one for some Democrats. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama is the electrifying newcomer, but limited in his experience. Gore remains, for many party activists, the Democrat and popular vote-getter done wrong.
"He won the election in 2000 - he just lost the count," former Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler said. "If I were he, I wouldn't rule out a run. It's an uncertain field, and he's a person who is widely respected."
In many respects, Gore is better positioned for a political comeback than in his previous bids.
He has won fame for "An Inconvenient Truth," the highest-grossing documentary of the year. His outspoken environmentalism and opposition to the Iraq war has drawn raves from many Democrats, who have been frustrated by the caution among some party lawmakers on those issues.
Derided in 2000 for being a wooden know-it-all, the new Gore is funny. He's done humorous turns on "Saturday Night Live" and voiced a disembodied head on the cartoon "Futurama," which is being made into a movie.
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Perhaps most important for his future political endeavors, Gore has gotten rich. Thanks to a range of business ventures, including a longtime advisory relationship with Google and a seat on Apple Computer's board of directors, aides say he could spend as much as $50 million of his own money to launch a credible presidential run.
No signs of a presidential organization
To be sure, Gore has given plenty of signals that he does not intend to become a candidate.
While Clinton, Obama and other likely contenders have begun courting activists and building their organizations, Gore has steered far from campaign mechanics.
And while many prospective candidates have visited states with early presidential contests such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Gore spends most weekends at home in Nashville, Tenn., training environmentalists to deliver a slideshow presentation on global warming to audiences across the country.
"I see no signs of Gore organizing supporters right now," said Donna Brazile, Gore's presidential campaign manager in 2000.
Neither Clinton nor Obama has yet announced plans to run. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has declared his candidacy, while Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh has formed an exploratory committee. Other likely candidates include Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 presidential nominee; former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee; Delaware Sen. Joe Biden; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, some Democratic strategists believe Gore could be persuaded to enter the race and will wait to see how the field shakes out before making a final decision.
Joe Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's Internet-fueled presidential campaign in 2004, said Gore would be a formidable candidate and could probably wait longer than others to enter the field.
"If anything, he's more relevant than anyone in the race because of his positions on the war and global warming," Trippi said. "And that's really tough to do in the Democratic Party, which treats its failed presidential candidates like members of leper colony."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announce the Oscar nominations Jan. 23, with the 79th Oscars slated for Feb. 25. Iowa caucuses would be less than a year after that.
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