Various Gore intimates, Democratic functionaries, and commentators have talked up the prospect (the Washington Post's David Broder made it the subject of some out-loud musing on NBC's Meet the Press week before last).
The chief indication that something may be afoot is that one of Gore's main men is letting himself be talked up for chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. This would be Johnny Hayes, ex- of Gallatin, who has served Gore's electoral ambitions for years, most recently as a top presidential-campaign fundraiser.
Hayes, a stocky, good-natured former insurance man, is a T.C.B. type who was with Gore in his first congressional campaign in 1976 and has been with him ever since, taking time out to serve as TVA board member before going full-time with the Gore presidential campaign in early 1999.
"I don't know if Al himself is urging Johnny, but I don't have any doubt that some of his people are," opines Bill Owen of Knoxville, a member of the Democrats' state executive committee and a national committeeman as well.
Though he makes an exception for the well-liked Hayes, who has always kept fairly close liaison with Democrats in Tennessee, Owens is one of several state party people who were seriously underwhelmed by Gore's national campaign entourage.
Another is executive committee member David Upton of Memphis, who with Owens attempted to pass a committee resolution last year forcing the Tennessee Democratic Victory 2000 committee (a.k.a. the "Coordinated Campaign Committee") to clear its state expenditures (and confer on strategy) with the state party.
"They ran a terrible campaign in Tennessee," Upton says of the Gore campaign surrogates. "They let the presidential candidate down, and they let down all the local candidates and organizations they were supposed to be 'coordinating' tactics with."
While as complimentary toward Hayes as Owens, Upton isn't prepared to concede that Hayes is the inevitable chairman, pointing out that other strong contenders are still out there - notably Lebanon trial lawyer Bill Farmer, who is declared, and Memphis attorney John Farris, who is still thinking about it. Two other possible candidates are Middle Tennessee State professor Jeff Clark, who just lost a U.S. Senate race, and legislative employee David Bone.
Owens won't buy into that. "I don't want to call him [Hayes] the 'gorilla,' but he's the 800-pounder in the race. If he wants it, he probably gets it."
And if Al Gore wants him to want it, Hayes will dutifully develop the desire. He is a loyalist like Knoxville businessman Doug Horne, the virtual political unknown whom Gore backed for the chairmanship in 1998 and who will step down, yielding to a successor at a state committee meeting later this month.
Horne intends to run for governor - unless, as he has put it, a "serious contender" announces by the end of May. Speculation as to who that might be has so far focused on two congressmen, Bob Clement of Nashville and John Tanner of Union City.
After December 12th, the night of Gore's concession speech, speculation began to move in another direction.(More to come.)