by Lowman S. Henry | March 26, 2007

Gingrich and Gore try resurrecting an old path to the Presidency

Not only is the Presidential campaign of 2008 starting earlier than any in history, it also could produce a nominee – or even a President – who claims the Oval office by not initially running for it.

Two men who could not be further apart on the ideological spectrum have each eschewed the typical campaign route in favor of a high road approach focused on issue advocacy. Their efforts have none of the typical trappings of modern day Presidential campaigns – consultants, fundraisers, debates and rallies – yet they have achieved profiles higher than many of the announced candidates.

Al Gore continues to be a viable candidate for the Democratic nomination by virtue of his role as the high priest of global warming.  Similarly, Newt Gingrich has emerged as the Republican idea guy, a virtual conservative elder statesman.

Gingrich travels across America promoting his books and giving speeches.  His recent joint appearance at Cooper Union in Manhattan with former New York Governor Mario Cuomo invited comparisons with the fabled Lincoln/Douglas debates.  Lincoln delivered a lengthy address at Cooper Union on February 27, 2860 that is widely viewed as having launched his bid for the White House.  Gingrich and Cuomo engaged in the sort of issue oriented debate unheard of, in fact impossible, in candidate debates.

A run for President has not been ruled out by Gingrich, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. His game plan is to wait until September and then, if none of the three “top tier” candidates has caught fire, he stands ready to enter the race.  Coincidentally (or not), Gingrich has announced plans for an “American Solutions” forum on September 27th, the 13th anniversary of the unveiling of the Contract With America. He plans to “reach out across the country to activists, volunteers . . . and office holders.”

Meanwhile, Al Gore appears to have fashioned a successful second career as a film-maker.  His super-hyped – although not scientifically precise – film on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, recently won him an Academy Award.  Gore has appeared before both Houses of Congress to testify and plans to publish yet another tome on the subject in May. He has even been nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Gore has also been a fixture on the speaking circuit. Not only has he personally addressed audiences far and wide, but is also training an army of “climate messengers” to screen his film before community groups.  It is not too much of a stretch to see those “climate messengers” mutate into a grassroots army for a future Gore Presidential campaign.

In the early days of the Republic it was considered unseemly for aspiring Presidents to overtly campaign for the office.  Those wanting to be the nation’s chief executive spent their time cultivating their credentials and seeking to appear to be Presidential.  Rather than barnstorming across the nation (which was considerably more difficult in those days), supporters came to them.

Gingrich and Gore are attempting a “Back to the Future” maneuver by not overtly seeking the office – at least not yet – devoting themselves to serious issues and the discussion thereof.  Meanwhile, grassroots denizens of both parties are putting out the call for them to run.  Gingrich’s appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference unleashed more actual emotion and enthusiasm than was displayed for any of the announced candidates.

But will it work?  This is 2008 not 1808 and the political landscape has been dramatically altered.  Democrats Hilary Clinton, Barak Obama and John Edwards, and Republicans John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney are building extensive, well funded campaign operations.  Gingrich and Gore, although growing in credibility and stature, would be starting late and with none of the machinery needed to effectively compete in a primary process that is becoming increasingly front loaded.

However, as the other candidates politically beat each other up and the media has a field day raking them over the coals pointing out all their folables and inconsistencies, both parties could enter the last months of this year looking for credible alternatives.  If that happens, Gingrich and Gore will be tanned, rested and ready.  Ready perhaps to write a new chapter in the art of the Presidential campaign.