BETTY ANN BOWSER: Former Vice President al gore again yesterday said he would not challenge George W. Bush in 2004. Still, gore delivered a scolding review of the bush presidency during a speech at New York University. He criticized White House policies, both foreign and domestic. He said they favored the wealthy and were designed to pursue a hidden social agenda.
AL GORE: And yet, far from uniting the people, the president's ideologically narrow agenda has seriously divided America. His most partisan supporters have launched a kind of civil cold war against those with whom they disagree.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Gore said for a long time he blamed the president's advisors for those policies.
AL GORE: And I've just about concluded that the real problem may be the president himself... (applause ) ...and that next year we ought to fire him and get a new one. ( Applause )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But if not Gore, then who? Nine other Democrats are eagerly vying for the opportunity to challenge George Bush next year. And in Chicago on Wednesday night, each tried to stake out positions to attract the support of an audience of some 2,000 labor officials, representing the 13.5 million members of the AFL-CIO.
JOHN SWEENEY, AFL-CIO Presidential: It's my pleasure to welcome everyone to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Working Families Presidential Forum.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: An endorsement from big labor is important to any Democrat, and Missouri Congressman Dick Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader, is a traditional friend of labor's. On Tuesday, the United Steelworkers of America became the tenth national labor organization to endorse Gephardt's candidacy. The Teamsters are expected to do so tomorrow.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: This president is the Houdini of economics. Three million jobs have disappeared. He's got the worst record since Herbert Hoover. He's got to go for us to get jobs back in this country. ( Applause )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich wouldn't concede the labor endorsement to Gephardt. The former Cleveland mayor focused on a labor sore point: Free trade agreements.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: My good friend Dick Gephardt, will you cancel NAFTA? Will you cancel the WTO, which you voted for and which the bill bears your name? Let the people of this country know right now what you'll do. Howard Dean, will you cancel NAFTA? Will you cancel the WTO? Tell America's working men and women.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It is Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman who probably best represent the clear, yet competing visions of the Democratic Party. Lieberman attempted to distance himself from the rest of the Democratic field a day before the joint appearance in Chicago. During a speech in Washington, Lieberman tried to persuade Democrats his moderate, centrist position provided the best chance of beating President Bush.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: In one way or another in this election, most of the other Democratic candidates for president are threatening the change that Bill Clinton and Al Gore brought to the Democratic Party, and in doing so, I think they are threatening to take us back into the political wilderness. If we want our economy to grow, we have got to break down trade barriers across the world so we can sell things we make in America to the 96 percent of the other people in the world.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Howard Dean represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and issued a warning against Lieberman's brand of politics.
HOWARD DEAN: You can't beat President Bush by trying to be like him. We tried that in 2002, and it didn't work. The way to beat this president is to stand up, be proud to be Democrats, look to what Harry Truman put in the 1948 Democratic Party platform: Health insurance for everybody. We need to stand up for ourselves again and take on the president directly.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: During the evening, dean associated himself with the ideas of Paul Wellstone, the late liberal senator from Minnesota.
HOWARD DEAN: I got the first annual AFL-CIO Wellstone award for helping the AFT organize a group of nurses at the largest hospital in the country. ( Applause )
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Lieberman repeatedly referred to the successes of Bill Clinton.
HOWARD DEAN: We're all very proud of the Clinton-Gore economic record, and we have every reason to be.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Gephardt mentioned Clinton once. So did Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Under Bill Clinton, we created 23 million new jobs. We had trade, but we began to move towards labor and environment as part of trade. When I'm President of the United States, no trade agreement will ever be signed that has a rush to the bottom. We will have labor, environment standards, and we will fight for the rights of working people in this country to be able to do better.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Reverend Al Sharpton momentarily surprised the audience with his political description of himself.
REV. AL SHARPTON: Well, I'm the conservative on this stage. I want you to know the secret. I'm the conservative. I'm fighting to conserve Roe versus Wade, to conserve affirmative action, to conserve workers' rights to organize, to conserve what Wellstone and others stood up for. We must conserve what we won in the last 50 years.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Florida Senator Bob Graham is among the most conservative of the Democratic candidates.
SEN. BOB GRAHAM: I know that what I'm about to say may not be popular with everybody in this room, but the fact is that the United States does not have the choice to become a protectionist nation. We are the leader of the world economy. Leading that economy carries with it certain responsibilities: First, responsibilities to the people here at home. Those include: We have got to assure that there is a level playing field upon which that economic competition takes place.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: No matter which wing of the party they represent, the candidates all spoke strongly in support of the American worker. Former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun:
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN: I believe that if we make the investment in working people, if we make the investment to keep our economic engine going, we will be able to create the kind of jobs that'll provide a livable wage for American's families.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: North Carolina Senator John Edwards:
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: And it's so important for us to have a president who understands that jobs are about a lot more than a paycheck. They're, in fact, about dignity, self-respect, self-worth.
SPOKESMAN: Governor Dean?
HOWARD DEAN: The real question here tonight is which one of us can beat George Bush. (Applause )