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14/10/2007 | Prize propels Gore into kingmaker role

Edward Lucein

In the statement Al Gore issued on hearing of the Nobel Prize, he said global warming was “not a political issue”. That will be news to the US’s deeply polarised political classes.


Within hours of Friday’s announcement, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the two Democratic presidential frontrunners, issued warm statements of congratulation. Likewise, global warming sceptics rushed to the television studios to pour cold water on the science behind Mr Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth and to rail against the Nobel committee’s alleged liberal tendencies.

Meanwhile there was renewed speculation about a late Gore entry into the 2008 race. Those close to the former vice-president insisted he would not throw his hat into the ring in spite of his “red carpet” year in which his documentary won two Oscar awards, his TV channel won an Emmy and he was awarded Friday’s Nobel.

More realistically, Democratic consultants focused on whom Mr Gore might endorse among the existing Democratic field – if anyone. “The value of an Al Gore endorsement just shot up by several thousand per cent,” said an adviser to one of the campaigns. “Gore now has the leverage to really shape the campaign.”

Donna Brazile, Mr Gore’s campaign manager in the 2000 presidential race, says the prize could give Mr Gore the whip hand over the 2008 election.

“I believe Gore wants to be above the fray and not back in the middle,” she told ABC’s The Note – Washington’s most-read morning blog. “With the Nobel Prize now his, Gore can play kingmaker and help the Democrats win in 2008.”

Among Mr Gore’s potential endorsements, Mrs Clinton is considered the least likely. Relations between the two have been frosty since the late 1990s when Mr Gore did little to hide his distaste at Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. For his part, Mr Gore believed the scandal damaged his electoral prospects in 2000 and pointedly declined to ask for Mr Clinton’s help on the campaign trail – a decision that many believe cost him the state of Arkansas and the election.

However, both the Clintons have been working hard to win over Mr Gore given his popularity with the online “netroots” wing of the Democratic party which wields growing political and financial power. Last month Mr Clinton gave Mr Gore a star billing at his annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York in which global warming was one of the four principal themes. The two appeared on stage together.

However, Mr Gore’s endorsement record has a chequered history. In 2004 he endorsed the anti-Iraq war candidacy of Howard Dean, whose campaign collapsed within a week. “Perhaps the best the Clintons can hope for is that they neutralise Gore as a potential critic,” said one Democrat. “It is hard to see how he could gain from endorsing Hillary.”

More hopeful is Mr Obama, whose campaign is drawing a lot of support and cash from the netroots and who this week unveiled the most detailed global warming plan to have been issued by any of the candidates so far. Mr Obama proposed an economy-wide cap and trade system for carbon emissions that he said would help achieve his target of reducing US energy intensity by half by 2030.

In his statement on Friday Mr Obama linked Mr Gore’s prize to his own campaign theme of challenging conventional wisdom in Washington. “By having the courage to challenge the sceptics in Washington and lead on the climate crisis facing our planet, Al Gore has advanced the cause of peace and richly deserves this reward,” he said.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders said Mr Gore’s award would intensify the pressure on their more sceptical colleagues to approve tough new fuel economy standards for the US car industry and boost the chances of enacting a cap and trade system. Few, however, believe that Congress is ready to take Mr Gore’s advice on imposing a carbon tax. “Nobel Prize or not, a gas [petrol] tax is still political suicide,” said one congressional staffer.

Financial Times (Reino Unido)


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