Al Gore was expected to rev up the Democratic base at the Fleet Center tonight, and he certainly did that, opening his remarks by joking "I had hoped to be back here tonight running for re-election" to the bittersweet roar of the crowd. But he was also quick to reach out beyond the base, asking Bush voters "Did you get what you expected? Is the country more united or divided?" and likewise reaching out to Nader holdouts: "Do you still believe there's no difference between the candidates?"
This was the new, improved Al Gore, the one we've seen a lot of lately, and the one many Democrats wish we'd seen in 2000, comfortable in his own skin, really naturally funny. He rushed to reassure the audience that he's not lying awake "counting and recounting sheep" because of losing the presidency to George W. Bush. "I know all about the bad economy" he quipped later. "I was the first one laid off."
But he certainly channeled the anger of those who fervently believe he won four years ago, urging them to make sure "every vote counts," and "to focus fully and completely on putting John Kerry and John Edwards in the White House." And Gore did something else he didn't do much of in 2000 -- he embraced the man who made him vice president. After thanking the Democratic rank and file, he said, "There's someone else I'd like to thank: my friend and partner for eight years, Bill Clinton."
Having Gore speak early on the convention's first night has been cynically judged the party's way of dispensing with backward-looking, Bush-bashing, "Sore Lieberman" memories of 2000. But given the GOP's skill at fighting dirty, the reinivented Gore will be an asset to the party, reminding its new leaders of the urgency of hitting back. Anybody who watched Teresa Heinz Kerry take punches all day for her inelegant but heartfelt televised "Shove it" remark knows how badly the fighting Al Gore is needed.