LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) - Al Gore told cheering Florida Democrats Saturday it was time "to speak out boldly" and rejoin the political debate with President Bush and Republicans because much of their agenda "is wrong for America."
The former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential nominee told the Florida Democratic Convention that both parties can stand together on the war against terrorism, while holding vital political debate on many other issues.
The speech at a state party gathering was Gore's first appearance with other possible candidates for the White House in 2004 since the last election. It also was his most partisan political performance since the campaign against Bush two years ago.
He thanked Florida Democrats for helping pull him virtually even with Bush in the state in the 2000 election, and said they could do the same and defeat Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's younger brother.
"Our work will not be done," he told them. "At that point, one down and one to go."
GOP spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said it "sounds like the same old Al Gore, all negative attacks and no positive proposals."
Some Democrats have questioned why Gore did not step forward last year, though he thought the timing was wrong.
"Here in America, patriotism does not mean keeping quiet, it means speaking out," said Gore, who has been gradually re-emerging in the political arena.
He has said he has not decided whether he will run for president in 2004, focusing instead on helping in this fall's congressional races.
"Let there be no doubt when we talk about our differences on these issues, we do stand shoulder to shoulder with the president and with the troops," Gore said.
Gore focused his differences with the Bush administration on spending priorities, the environment and the economy.
"The time has come to speak out boldly, not only when right, but to offer constructive alternatives," Gore said. "A lot of what they're doing is wrong for America."
Concerning the economy, he said the administration is "selling out the future in exchange for satisfying short-term political demands from special interests."
He contrasted that with his assessment of the Clinton administration's handling of the economy. "I don't care what anybody says, I think Bill Clinton and I did a damn good job with the economy," he said to loud applause.
He said the GOP is "wrong to vilify those who stand up against them as unpatriotic.
Other potential presidential candidates attending the convention are North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, and the two senators from Connecticut - Christopher Dodd and Gore's 2000 running mate Joe Lieberman.
Gore, Lieberman and their wives had breakfast Saturday morning, aides said, and Gore praised the former vice presidential nominee in his speech.
The fresh face among the Democrats is Edwards. Speaking before Gore, he told the crowd that "the character of our party is being challenged" and outlined his concerns about the environment, education and prescription drugs. He also shared some details about his life, growing up in a small town, working as a trial lawyer, even joked about being named America's sexiest politician by People magazine.
Edwards got an enthusiastic standing ovation that was overshadowed by the sustained cheering and shouting that started when Gore was introduced. They chanted "Re-elect Gore, re-elect Gore, re-elect Gore" for several minutes, referring to the disputed end of the 2000 election in Florida.
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