Mickey Kaus speculates that a machiavellian Clinton campaign secretly wants Al Gore in the race, the better to split the left-wing, anti-Hillary vote and let her ride a plurality to victory in the shortened primary season. That's always been my assumption about a Gore candidacy - that it would either knock Edwards and even Obama to the sidelines and create an Al-Hillary battle royale, or that Gore would just further fragment the anti-Clinton vote and guarantee her victory. But as Obama's strength grows, I'm starting to wonder ... Are we sure that a Gore candidacy wouldn't take more votes from Hillary?
Obviously Gore is more closely identified with the MoveOn.org and netroots folks than with, say, Mark Penn and the other centrist types in the Clinton inner circle, which would seem to suggest that he and Hillary would draw from very different pools of primary voters. But as this poll that Kevin Drum flags suggests, most voters don't necessarily see the political landscape through the same insider-ish and ideology-driven prism as the pundit class. I think it's easy to imagine that Hillary will draw a lot of support from primary voters who have lukewarm feelings about her candidacy, but worry that Obama is too inexperienced, too young, and too, well, black to win the general election. And it's also easy to imagine a lot of those voters turning with some relief from Clinton to Gore - who's experienced, white, and won the popular vote once upon a time - if given the opportunity.
And actual polling data - from back in February, at least - seems to back this supposition up:
The latest poll put Clinton at 36 percent, Obama at 24 percent, Gore at 14 percent and Edwards at 12 percent. None of the other Democrats running received more than 3 percent. With Gore removed from the field, Clinton would gain ground on Obama, leading the Illinois senator 43 percent to 27 percent. Edwards ran third at 14 percent.
So there you have it - Hillary's better off with Gore out of the race than in it. Maybe.