Could Nobel Win Push Gore Into ’08 Race?

Al Gore is not running for president. But might the publicity and sheen of a Nobel Peace Prize change his mind? Some Democratic activists sure hope so.

Grass-roots Gore loyalists have been buzzing for weeks about the Nobel Prize announcement scheduled for Oct. 12 in Oslo, Norway. Gore was nominated for his work on global warming, and several longtime Nobel observers believe this could be the year that a champion of climate change gets the prize. "We feel that if [Gore] wins the Nobel Prize … then he can't not run for president," says Roy Gayhart, a San Diego-based organizer of a California draft Gore group.

For Gore supporters like Gayhart, the real inconvenient truth is that the former veep is not a candidate—and may never become one, no matter what happens in Oslo on Friday. Gore, who won an Emmy last month for his Current TV channel and whose film, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar last February, has said nothing to indicate that he would run, and his Nashville office didn't return several phone calls and e-mails seeking comment for this story. But unlike 2004, when his Shermanesque statement stopped supporters dead in their tracks, Gore has not completely closed the door on the idea.

Encouraged, "Draft Gore" organizations from Washington to Michigan to Massachusetts are working to put Gore's name on 2008 primary ballots. The number of volunteers in the California 4 Gore group has more than doubled to 1,100 since early August, enough to circulate petitions in all 53 congressional districts. The national group, which has gathered about 127,000 signatures this year—10,000 of them on Sept. 28 alone thanks in part to a segment on Randi Rhodes's Air America radio show—plans to place a full-page ad in The New York Times in the coming days as an open letter to Gore urging him to run, says the group's Eva Ritchey. Meanwhile another new coalition called America For Gore initiated a "Two Cents Worth" campaign to encourage supporters nationwide to mail two pennies in an envelope to Gore's office to encourage a run.

Gore supporters figure a Nobel win would burnish his reputation and remind Democrats that he's been a leader fighting what voters consider the world's premier environmental battle. "It makes him look like the knight in shining armor," says Stephen Cohen, president of the New York Draft Al Gore PAC. No one but the Nobel committee knows how Gore might fare. He's one of 181 candidates, a list including Bolivian President Evo Morales, Finnish peace broker Martti Ahtisaari and Chinese dissident Rebiya Kadeer. Some Gore backers think he's already decided to run, but speculate that he doesn't want politics to interfere with his Nobel chances.

Even most diehard Gore supporters agree the next few weeks are do-or-die for a Gore candidacy. The New York state petition drive must gather 5,000 signatures during a short legal window between Halloween and early December. Gore supporters in Michigan launched a petition drive last week that must secure 12,396 valid signatures by Oct. 23—and a signed candidate affidavit from Gore himself—to place his name on next year's primary ballot. (Gore backers there draw hope from an Aug. 14 Detroit News/WXYZ-TV statewide poll of 400 likely Democratic voters in which Gore had 36 percent, beating Hillary Clinton, who had 32 percent, and the rest of the field.)

But even the optimists are philosophical about their chances of talking Gore into the race. "I know it's still a real long shot that he'll run," acknowledges Fred Koed of the Massachusetts Draft Gore group. "If I were in his shoes, after the devastating and painful loss in 2000, I'd really have to search inside myself to see if it was all worth doing again. He'll just have to determine if this is right for him." In the meantime, Koed and his cohorts hope the Gore faithful—and the Nobel committee—can help him make up his mind.