Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Albert Gore, Jr.

Albert Gore, Jr., was born in Washington, D.C., on March 31, 1948, to a highly distinguished family. His father, Albert Gore, Sr., was a powerful Senator from Tennessee who spent thirty-two years in Congress. His mother was the second woman to graduate from Vanderbilt Law School, and his older sister was one of the founding members of the Peace Corps. From an early age, his father's career put Al in close proximity to powerful political figures. He met Richard Nixon, spent time in his father's Senate office, and eavesdropped on phone calls between his father and John F. Kennedy. He also volunteered for his father's campaigns until the elder Gore lost his Senate seat in 1970.

In high school, Gore excelled both academically and athletically and went to Harvard University after receiving a National Merit Scholarship. He graduated in 1969 and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a journalist. After his tour of duty was complete, he attended divinity school at Vanderbilt University. In May 1970, he married Mary Elizabeth "Tipper" Aitcheson.

After working briefly as a journalist for the Nashville Tennessean, Gore entered law school at Vanderbilt. His academic career was interrupted when he successfully sought election the U.S. House of Representatives at the age of twenty-eight. Despite his youth and inexperience, Gore quickly made a name for himself in Congress. He helped pass legislation to create a "Superfund" to clean up toxic waste sites and attracted the attention of the Reagan administration with his ideas of arms control. Having established a strong record in the House, Gore was elected to the Senate in 1984.

Gore entered the Democratic presidential primaries in 1988 and won six states before ultimately losing the contest to Michael Dukakis. In 1991, he was one of ten Democratic Senators to split with their party and support a bill authorizing President George H.W. Bush to pursue military action in the Persian Gulf after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Had it not been for a nearly fatal accident involving his son, Gore likely would have sought the presidential nomination in 1992. Instead, Bill Clinton won a surprise victory and eventually centered on Gore as a possibility for vice president.

Although they were both young Southern politicians, Gore did balance Clinton in a number of important ways. He was a Washington insider with military experience and an untarnished reputation as a man of integrity and strong family values. As important as their differences, however, was the centrist "New Democrat" outlook Clinton and Gore shared that helped them function as a team. Facing an incumbent President badly hurt by economic recession, the Clinton-Gore ticket took the White House.

Shortly after the election, Clinton and Gore began to work out the details of an exceptionally close working relationship that afforded the vice president considerable influence in the administration. Gore met with Clinton regularly and became a chief adviser on nominations. Many members of his own staff were eventually integrated into that of the White House. Once Clinton assumed the presidency, Gore was consulted on a broad range of issues, although his advice on foreign affairs was particularly sought. During his term, the vice president spent roughly a quarter of his working hours on foreign policy and diplomatic missions. He was also deeply involved in issues concerning the environment and information technology and helped generate public support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

After a successful reelection campaign in 1996, the administration endured a difficult second term that was defined more by scandal than policy successes. The Lewinsky scandal dominated the headlines and eventually resulted in the House impeaching President Clinton. Gore called it "the saddest day I have seen in our nation's capital." The Vice President became enmeshed in controversy himself when it was revealed he had partaken in questionable fundraising activities, sometimes from his White House office. Gore did help shape the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during this time, but opposition to the treaty in the United States prevented it from ever being submitted to Congress for formal ratification.

In 2000, Gore ran for President against Governor George W. Bush of Texas. The election was one of the closest and most controversial in U.S. history. While he won the popular vote by more than half a million votes, Gore failed to capture an electoral majority. The election came down to Florida, where Bush commanded a razor-thin 537 vote margin. After a series of recounts and legal battles, the Supreme Court finally ended the election with the case of Bush v. Gore, in which the Court ruled in George W. Bush's favor. The final electoral tally was 271 for Bush against 266 for Gore.

After the election, Gore retired to private life but remained in the public eye as he published a book, appeared on television, and starred in a popular documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," about his efforts to bring attention to global warming. In 2007, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for these efforts.

Gore's approach to the vice presidency had some parallels with that of Walter Mondale, who served as vice president for President Jimmy Carter and thought the office offered more power when the vice president functioned more as a general adviser than someone who oversaw specific policy areas or directives. Clinton sometimes commented that Gore was amongst the most powerful vice presidents in history, and his assessment was largely correct. Gore had both access to and influence over the channels of power within the administration and used them to leave his mark on administration policy. His ability to impact and guide policy directives made Gore one of the most powerful and most important modern vice presidents.