Gore sets solemn tone in low-key swing through Iowa, says nation is more united than ever

Sunday, September 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Former Vice President Al Gore brought a message of unity to a Democratic forum Saturday, declaring that ``there are no divisions in this country'' and fighting terrorism is a mission for all.

``George W. Bush is my commander in chief,'' Gore said. ``This country is more united than at any time I can remember in my lifetime.''

Gore was the keynote speaker Saturday at the Iowa Democratic Party's biggest annual fund-raiser, but aides made it clear there would be nothing approaching partisanship in a state where the presidential nominating season begins.

``As Americans all of us stand behind our president and send a message to the world that we will win this war against terrorism,'' Gore said.

Gore set a solemn tone for what had been planned as his first step back into the limelight since losing an agonizingly narrow election last year. Partisanship has faded since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the change was clearly reflected in Gore's speech to 1,500 party activists.

``As Democrats let's keep this bipartisanship alive,'' Gore said. ``We are united behind our president, George W. Bush, behind our country, behind the effort to seek justice ... to make sure this can never, never happen again.''

Democrats had considered scrubbing the dinner, coming only three weeks after the attacks, but decided to proceed as a way of getting the nation back to normal.

``There is some political risk,'' said Rod Halvorson, a Democratic activist from Fort Dodge. ``He's an honorable man who is honoring a commitment.''

Gore flew in a day earlier than expected Friday, roaming across the state by himself in a rental car and inviting tiny handfuls of backers to breakfast, lunch or just to chat.

Gore talked with state House Democratic Leader Dick Myers at an Iowa City bookstore. ``He was real laid-back,'' Myers said, adding that they didn't talk about Gore's political future.

Gore last year hammered former Sen. Bill Bradley in Iowa's leadoff precinct caucuses, then won Iowa's seven electoral votes in the general election by 4,000 votes. He has not returned to the state since the contest, though several potential 2004 rivals have.

Rob Tully, a former Democratic State Chairman, said the visit could help Gore drum up enthusiasm for another run for president.

``There are some people out there who are not excited about a Gore candidacy,'' Tully said before the speech Saturday. ``Whoever runs is going to have to prove themselves.''