Monday, June 16, 2008

Gore Endorses Obama as a Solver of Problems

Published: June 17, 2008

DETROIT — Former Vice President Al Gore made his season debut on the presidential campaign here on Monday evening, offering a vigorous endorsement of Senator Barack Obama as he urged all Democrats to rally behind the party’s fall ticket.

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Former Vice President Al Gore offered a vigorous endorsement of Senator Barack Obama in Detroit on Monday night.

Speaking at a campaign fund-raiser that preceded a rally that drew thousands of supporters to a downtown arena, Mr. Gore ticked off a long list of challenges facing the nation. He hailed Mr. Obama as “clearly the candidate best able to solve these problems and bring change to America.”

Mr. Gore had purposefully stayed on the sidelines during the long Democratic primary fight. He announced his decision to endorse Mr. Obama on Monday afternoon in a message to supporters on the former vice president’s vast e-mail list. Their appearance at the Joe Louis Arena here touched off a flurry of curiosity among Democrats gathered in the crowd, with many quietly asking if Mr. Gore would be on Mr. Obama’s list of prospective running mates.

The decision to stage the appearance in Michigan underscored the importance of the state for Mr. Obama. It was also in Michigan that former Senator John Edwards unveiled his endorsement of Mr. Obama in a surprise setting. The state, a general election battleground, was one of the few places that Mr. Obama did not campaign during the primary because of a dispute with the Democratic National Committee over the delegates.

“Over the past 18 months, Barack Obama has united a movement,” Mr. Gore wrote to his supporters, asking them to join Mr. Obama’s campaign. “He knows change does not come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or Capitol Hill. It begins when people stand up and take action.”

Since Mr. Obama opened his presidential bid in January 2007, the two have talked frequently, including in a private meeting last fall at Mr. Gore’s Nashville home. Mr. Obama said Monday that the former vice president had been helpful throughout the primaries, lending his ear and his thoughts, but always taking care to stay impartial in the wide Democratic field.

“It means a lot, obviously,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve had ongoing conversations about a whole host of issues, a lot of them have revolved around issues of climate change and energy and the environment. He’s provided good political advice.”

Monday evening’s rally was a rare political appearance for Mr. Gore, who implored Democrats to unify behind Mr. Obama and take seriously the notion that the next president would almost certainly help shape the makeup of the Supreme Court.

“Over the next four years, we are going to face many difficult challenges — including bringing our troops home from Iraq, fixing our economy and solving the climate crisis,” Mr. Gore said.

At a fund-raising reception before the evening rally, a gray-haired Mr. Gore stood a few paces behind Mr. Obama, a reversal of roles for the man who served for eight years in the White House and narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. Mr. Gore applauded repeatedly as he watched Mr. Obama deliver his remarks, standard fare that was heavily weighted with talking points about climate change and the environment.

Every few minutes, Mr. Obama would make a reference to Mr. Gore’s prescient decisions and judgments, referring to Iraq as “a war that Al Gore understood should never have been authorized and never should have been waged.”

Then, Mr. Obama turned to climate change and energy, saying: “Al Gore has done more to educate the world about this problem than anyone, but I have to say, as extraordinary as Al Gore’s work has been, there’s nothing like $4 a gallon gas to get your attention.”

Earlier on Monday, Mr. Obama’s most likely opponent, Senator John McCain, called for lifting the federal moratorium on offshore oil drilling for states that want to permit it.

Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, said the impact of high fuel prices was hitting Americans, not only at the pump, but also in the form of rising food costs and threats of inflation, so he also favored giving states incentives to allow exploration.

“We must embark on a national mission to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases through the development of alternate energy sources,” Mr. McCain said at a press conference at his campaign headquarters, adding that he still supported a summer gas tax holiday.

In the Senate, Mr. McCain has a mixed record on the issue of oil exploration. In 2001 and 2006, he voted in favor of offshore oil drilling in Florida, but in 2003 he voted against it in Florida and other states. Mr. McCain has consistently opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Daniel J. Weiss, an expert on global warming at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group, said that Mr. McCain’s call to lift the moratorium was a “partial capitulation” to the oil industry in that states that did not want to drill offshore would not have to.

“McCain is handing America’s coasts on a platter to the big oil companies the day before he goes to talk to them in Houston,” Mr. Weiss said.

About 85 percent of the coastal areas of the continental United States are protected from oil exploration by the moratorium that Mr. McCain is seeking to roll back, and energy companies hope that states including Virginia and North Carolina would be tempted to allow drilling. Currently, the federal government permits offshore drilling in four Gulf Coast states as well as Alaska and along a small strip of the California coast.

Michael Falcone and Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Washington.

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