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  •   Gore Makes It Official: He'll Run in 2000

    Vice President Gore. (Reuters)
    By Ceci Connolly
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 1, 1999; Page A1

    With no fanfare late on New Year's Eve, Vice President Gore filed papers to become the first official candidate for the 2000 presidential campaign, signaling his intention to press on with his own White House ambitions even as President Clinton is preparing for an impeachment trial in the Senate.

    The documents filed with the Federal Election Commission yesterday formally create the Gore 2000 committee and allow the Tennessee Democrat to raise money, hire staff and campaign across the country.

    The move also indicates that Gore is eager to display what many expect will be his greatest strength in the Democratic primaries: a ferocious fund-raising machine with the potential to suck up money before other contenders can get to it.

    Craig Smith, a former White House political director who will be Gore's campaign manager, said yesterday that it would be foolish to allow potential candidates such as Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) and former senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) to get a jump on the money-raising contest that is likely to dominate 1999.

    "They're out there raising money and we're not," Smith said, noting that both of those men have taken the preliminary step of forming exploratory committees that allow them to test the waters without going as far as Gore did yesterday.

    Candidates for 2000 need to raise about $25 million in 1999, according to several analysts. That means collecting more than $60,000 a day every day of this year.

    And unlike in previous years, when candidates could use a victory in Iowa or New Hampshire to generate more money, the newly revised primary schedule makes it virtually impossible for campaigns to raise money in 2000. "By the middle of March, for all intents and purposes, the nomination will be almost finished," Smith said, citing decisions by California, New York and several other states to move up their primaries.

    Although aides played down the FEC filing as routine paperwork, the legal step begins a flurry of activity that includes hiring staff, renting an office and scheduling purely political trips that could not be paid for with taxpayer money. Aides expect the vice president to begin fund-raising trips within the next couple of months. He will also tap the campaign bank account whenever he meets with political supporters outside Washington.

    Gore's likely fund-raising prowess comes with a price. The cautious vice president found his Boy Scout image tarnished in the last campaign by charges that he raised money at a Buddhist temple and personally made solicitation calls from the White House. Attorney General Janet Reno has twice rejected entreaties to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Gore's role in the 1996 fund-raising.

    Smith said Gore is taking extra steps to run a clean money-operation.

    "We've already got lawyers working on guidelines, rules and vetting procedures," he said. "It will be more extensive than in [the] past because of heightened scrutiny."

    Even in its embryonic state, the Gore candidacy is essentially a traditional front-runner's pitch for the status quo. Members of the vice president's inner circle have argued for months that in the 2000 campaign Gore will be the beneficiary of the overwhelming public support for Clinton and the thriving economy.

    "The vice president's defense of the president has been something that has cemented his support among the party's base and been a source of support building for him," said one Gore political adviser. "The overall political impact has been to rally loyalists to the vice president."

    As the impeachment battle has progressed, and Clinton's popularity has climbed, Gore has emerged as the most visible supporter of the president. On the day of Clinton's impeachment, Gore stood beside the president and offered his most detailed defense yet. "I feel extremely privileged to have been able to serve with him as his partner for the past six years and I look forward to serving with him for the next two years," Gore said, cementing his political fate to Clinton's.

    Even more significant than the partisan rhetoric is Gore's willingness to insert himself into the Senate trial. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week, he said he may be needed to cast the tie-breaking vote in pretrial motions.

    Acknowledging that he has been talking with Senate Democrats and studying the history of impeachment, he said he does not expect to lobby former colleagues in the Senate. However, he told the paper: "If a senator who's a close friend calls me up or comes to visit and asks me, 'What do you think about this or that?' I'm certainly going to feel free to communicate with them in full."

    Already, longtime adviser Peter Knight has drafted a fund-raising blueprint similar to the model that helped the Clinton-Gore campaign raise more than $26 million in 1995.

    Yesterday, Smith and presidential pollster Doug Schoen held a conference call with about 50 key supporters alerting them that Gore was ready to open the campaign. Smith also sent a fax to 100 more people noting, "This is the first step of a long process."

    Yet in many respects, Gore has been running for president since the day Clinton won a second term. Last year, the vice president campaigned for more than 67 Democrats, participated in 123 fund-raisers and gave $1.3 million from his own political action committee to Democratic candidates, according to a report prepared by his staff.

    After making a dozen trips to California in 1998, Gore will return there on Monday for the inauguration of Gov.-elect Gray Davis (D). The Gore family was skiing in Utah over the New Year's holiday.

    In addition to naming Smith, Gore also announced the hiring of Tina Flournoy as finance director and Jose Villarreal as campaign treasurer. Flournoy, a former executive at Philip Morris and general counsel for the 1992 Democratic National Convention, worked closely with Knight in the 1996 reelection campaign. Villarreal, an attorney in San Antonio, was active in previous Clinton-Gore campaigns and is a member of the board of the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

    In addition to Bradley and Wellstone, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has formed an exploratory committee. That step enables them to pay for polls, travel and other things that help them decide whether to run. Under FEC regulations, an exploratory committee may not amass money for a presidential campaign.

    Several other potential candidates are expected to declare their intentions in the new year, including Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), publishing heir Malcolm "Steve" Forbes, former vice president Dan Quayle and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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