Gore declares his presidential stand

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The Independent Online
WITH LITTLE fanfare, Al Gore emerged yesterday as the first official candidate in next year's campaign for the American presidency.

After filing papers late on Thursday with the Federal Election Commission in Washington DC, he signaled his intention to make a run to succeed President Bill Clinton as the next tenant in the White House.

Vice-President Gore, who yesterday was out of the capital on a family skiing holiday in Utah, said he now plans to create the "Gore 2000 Committee". Its formation will allow him to begin the critical task of raising funds for his campaign, to open a campaign office and to begin to hire campaign staff.

Mr Gore made his move just as his political partner of the past six years, Bill Clinton, was preparing to face a possible impeachment trial in the Senate in the next few weeks.

But in spite of Mr Clinton's scandal-derived difficulties, the Vice-President stands out as the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

Two other Democrat figures, former Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey, and Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, have also declared tentative plans for pursuing the presidency in recent weeks.

Both have created exploratory committees to study the viability of their joining the race. That less definitive step does not allow them, however, to begin raising funds directly for campaign activities.

By moving more quickly than his putative rivals for the nomination, Mr Gore hopes to get a jump-start on raising money.

With a changed calendar of election primaries that will squeeze the nomination process into the first quarter of next year, analysts estimate that any presidential hopeful must amass $25m (pounds 16m) this year to have any realistic chance in 2000 - that is $60,000 a day, every day of this year.

History offers some encouragement for Mr Gore. The last 50 years have seen five US vice-presidents successfully make the leap to the presidency. They were Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, George Bush and Gerald Ford. Two former Democrat vice-presidents tried and failed to secure the presidency, however - Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale.

If the enduring popularity of the Clinton administration survives the coming months, it should give Mr Gore a strong edge over his opponents. His fortunes will also rest to a large extent on the economy and on hopes that the growth that has marked the Clinton presidency since its outset will endure.

Mr Gore has recently stepped forward to defend Mr Clinton against the impeachment allegations. He notably spoke out on the day impeachment articles were passed in the House of Representatives. "I feel extremely privileged to have been able to serve with him as his partner for the past six years," he said.

The Republican field has also begun to come into view.

On Wednesday, Senator John McCain of Arizona filed papers announcing the creation of his own exploratory committee.

Most eyes, however, are trained on the popular Republican Governor of Texas, George W Bush. While he has made no formal statements as yet, the son of George Bush is widely expected to make the plunge.

With many months still to go and plenty of scope for the unexpected, most observers none the less are looking forward to a 2000 race that will put Messrs Gore and Bush into combat for the White House.

Mr Gore is certain to take special care to ensure that his fund-raising for the race is above all suspicion.

The Attorney-General, Janet Reno, has twice declined to answer Republican calls to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate claims that during the 1996 campaign Mr Gore violated election rules both at a fund-raiser in a Hindu temple and in making phone calls from his White House office.

Craig Smith, a veteran Democrat adviser who has been appointed as the Vice-President's campaign manager, told The Washington Post yesterday that special controls are being put in place.

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