Nov. 15, 2002 -- Al Gore is back in the spotlight — stumping for Democratic candidates, challenging President Bush's domestic and foreign policy moves — and perhaps testing the waters for another presidential bid in 2004.
In his first television interview since his crushing defeat to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race, Gore, along with his wife Tipper and two of their daughters, talk with Barbara Walters about the gut-wrenching post-election drama and about what comes next.
For two years, Gore has been keeping a low profile. He resurfaced for a bit as a tweed-jacketed, bearded professor. He stepped back into the political spotlight this fall, stumping for Democratic candidates in the midterm elections.
In his campaign swings, Gore appeared much more relaxed promoting other candidates than he had when he was seeking the White House. Often wryly opening his speeches by saying, "I used to be 'the next President of the United States of America'," his campaign appearances are filled with references — both witty and poignant — to the 2000 presidential race. "Every time somebody tells you that your vote doesn't make a difference, tell them to come see me and talk about that," he told an audience at a campaign stop in Iowa.
You Win Some, You Lose Some, and Then …
When voters woke up on the morning after Election Day 2000, there was still no new President-elect. For the next 36 days, the battle to recount votes in Florida transfixed a campaign-weary nation. There were machine recounts and hand recounts; butterfly ballots and dimpled chads. At one point Gore trailed Bush by little more than 300 votes.
The Gores recall election night, and the month of unprecedented uncertainty that followed as an emotional roller coaster. The Gores' 25-year-old daughter Kristin, who'd been active in the campaign, was also in disbelief. "It was pretty devastating. My father and mother were so amazing because I was sort of breaking down ... and they were just very, very strong, and they became parents, you know, they really comforted us," she said.
And the family needed comfort. Convinced that the race was lost, Gore called George Bush privately to concede; but just minutes before delivering his concession speech to his supporters and the nation, he got a call and learned that the preliminary numbers weren't holding up.
"So I called Governor Bush back and said, 'Look, uh, this turns out to be very different from what it looked like when we talked a couple of hours ago.' … He said that 'well, my, my little brother tells me that Florida was over with.' And I said, 'Well, with all due respect, I don't think your little brother has the final word on this.'"
Gore says he does believe that the White House could have been his, "specifically when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that they would have to actually count all the ballots. That's all I asked for."
Then the Bush camp pushed the case to the Supreme Court. In a stunning 5-4 decision the justices ended Gore's efforts to continue the recount. "Truthfully, I was shocked. I know I shouldn't have been because many predicted it, but I did not think that decision would come. I just didn't think that it would come," he said.
Tipper said, "I don't think they ever should have taken the case."
Following the high court's action, Gore called Bush before making his concession speech. "I said, 'Congratulations.' And then I said, 'I'm not going to call you back this time.'"
Remarkably, Gore seems to have gotten past the bitter defeat. He said, joking, "My attitude was that you win some, you lose some, and then there's that little-known third category … You flip a coin and it lands on its edge."
In retrospect, he admits he could have done things differently. He agrees that he could have communicated better on the campaign trail, acknowledging that he was sometimes awkward and stiff in public. He also acknowledges that his now-famous exasperated sighs in his debates with Bush hurt him. "I wish I hadn't reacted that way. I was exasperated by some of the things, a lot of the things, that he was saying," Gore said.
But Gore bristles at another major criticism — that he relied too much on his wife, Tipper, and daughter, Karenna — for advice during the campaign. Gore said, "Look, I plead guilty to being extremely close to my wife and children. … and I make no bones about that. I trust their judgment. Now should I have had a broader and more inclusive inner circle? I think there's some validity to that criticism."
Back in the Ring?
Gore had planned to re-enter politics and challenge President Bush's economic policies at a big political dinner in Iowa that was scheduled for late September 2001. But then, the Sept. 11 attacks happened. So instead of criticizing the president at that event, Gore said this: "George W. Bush is my Commander-in-Chief."
"I felt that he did a terrific job in the aftermath of September 11, in the immediate aftermath, and I said so at the time," Gore said.
But since then, he has stepped up his criticism of the president. He says he doesn't think the administration has laid out a clear plan and rationale for proposed military action against Iraq.
He says he's worried that the Bush's approach to America's economic troubles is failing.
But Gore's criticism of the Bush administration and Republican policies didn't sway voters in midterm elections earlier this month. The GOP now controls both houses of Congress, as well as the White House.
Gore knows the loss was a wake-up call for his party. "It was a massive defeat for the Democratic Party and we have to accept that ... and come out fighting as the loyal opposition not just in name, but in reality and fight for the average families in this country who are, in many ways, under more economic stress than they have been under in 50 years," he said.
Focus on Family
There are few things Al Gore cares more about than the state of the American family. In fact, for the past 11 years, Al and Tipper Gore have hosted a major conference at Vanderbilt University, bringing together experts, professors, political figures and families — to dig into critical issues affecting families.
As a result of their involvement with the Family Conference, their own family's experience and deeply held beliefs, Al and Tipper have written a new book on the American family called Joined at the Heart. The book is part personal memoir along with analysis of how the American family has been redefined."We've been eager to write this book for quite a while. … The family in America may look different today, uh, it's no longer mainly Ozzie & Harriet. It's not yet Ozzie Osbourne. But it's everything," Gore said.
The Gores' book profiles a dozen very different families, including "blended families" which combined after divorce and remarriage; inter-racial families; some with disabled children; immigrant families and families with gay parents.
Tipper Gore says balancing work and family is the biggest challenge facing families today. "People are working harder, they're working longer hours and they feel like there's not enough time to spend with their families," she said.
Besides Kristin and Karenna, Al and Tipper Gore have two other children, 23-year-old Sara and 20-year-old Albert, both away at school. Karenna, the oldest, is married and the mother of two. But Al Gore says it's Kristen, the comedian in the family, who may have opened up a whole new career for him — just in case that political thing doesn't work out.—
Kristen is a writer for the TV show Futurama, and this past Sunday, her father starred — playing himself.
But given the recent Republican victories in last week's mid-term elections, Al Gore may be needed by his party back here on Earth.
Watch 20/20 for more of Walters' exclusive interview with the Gores.