Both are the products of a patrician upbringing. One is the son of a U.S. Senator. The other is the son of a Governor. One is a Republican who assiduously tacked to the ideological center in a northeast liberal state. The other is a Democrat who coined himself “a Raging Moderate” in a conservative border state. One moved to the left, alienating the moderates who had supported him in the past. The other moved to the right, making him unrecognizable to the moderates who had elected him to office.
The careers of former Vice President Al Gore and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney are almost a mirror image. Gore is the son of Al Gore Sr., a moderate Democrat who represented the Volunteer state in the U.S. Senate from 1953-1971. Gore Sr. sought unsuccessfully his party’s nomination for the Vice Presidency in 1956. Romney is the son of George Romney, a moderate Republican who served as Governor of Michigan from 1963-1969. The elder Romney unsuccessfully sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1968.
Gore began his political career in 1976 by winning an open U.S. House seat representing Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District. In the U.S. House, Gore was an opponent of abortion rights, supporting the Hyde Amendment, which disallows federal funding for abortions. Gore voted for an amendment stating that a person “shall include unborn children from the moment of conception.” Gore branded homosexuality “abnormal sexual behavior” and said it “is not an acceptable alternative that society should affirm.”
Shortly after being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984, Gore became a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President. He was the most conservative candidate in the Democratic field. His candidacy focused on securing the votes of conservative Southern Democrats. While his Democratic counterparts assiduously cultivated support from the party’s activist liberal wing, Gore highlighted more centrist bone fides, including a muscular interventionist foreign policy. Gore was opposed to the nuclear freeze, and he had supported the Reagan administration’s invasion of Grenada. In addition, Gore was the only candidate to support the conservative Israeli Prime Minister Yatech Shamir in his refusal to negotiate a “land for peace” deal with the Palestinians.
In that 1988 Presidential campaign, Gore secured most of the last remnants of the conservative Southern Democratic establishment, including U.S. Senator Howell Heflin (D-AL), Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, (who later became a Republican), and an Agriculture Commissioner from Texas who served as Gore’s state Chairman, the soon to be Republican Rick Perry (currently the Governor of Texas). Gore lost the race, but his constituents rewarded his moderate credentials in 1990 when Gore was re-elected to the U.S. Senate with 67.72% of the vote, winning all 95 Tennessee counties.
Gore was one of a minority of Senate Democrats to support the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 1991, and faulted President George H.W. Bush for ordering the troops out of Iraq without first dislodging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Gore stated: “I don’t think we should have left the regime of Saddam Hussein in place.”
In 1994, venture capitalist Mitt Romney sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts running as a moderate Republican. He ran to the left of his more conservative opponent John Lakian. Romney supported abortion rights as well as the Democratic Crime Bill that was later signed by Bill Clinton. Romney also supported mandating employers to provide health insurance to their workers. Appearing before the Log Cabin Republicans, Romney said he would co-sponsor the Federal Non-Discrimination Act, and pledged to: “make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern.”
After securing the nomination, Romney continued to run as a centrist, distancing himself from the National Republican Party, supporting the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, favoring campaign spending limits, and advocating the outlawing of Political Action Committees. Romney said, “The ‘R’ in Republican stands for Reform.” Having donated money to Democratic Congressional candidates in the past, and voting for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic Presidential Primary, Romney proudly asserted “I was an Independent during the time of Reagan-Bush, I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”
After losing the Massachusetts Senatorial race, Romney continued to brandish his moderate credentials. In 2002, Romney won the Massachusetts Governorship by running as a pragmatic technocrat, eschewing ideology. During the campaign Romney asserted, “I’m someone who’s moderate. My views are progressive.”
During his first two years as Governor, Romney governed as a moderate, razing fees and corporate taxes to close a projected budget gap. In addition, Romney signed an assault weapons ban, and signed legislation outlawing smoking in almost all workplaces. Romney brandished his support for environmental regulations by refusing a local power plant’s request for an extension to comply with clean air standards.
After his 1990 landslide re-election victory to the U.S. Senate, Gore gradually moved to the left. He wrote a book, Earth in the Balance, proposing a Marshall Plan to deal with Climate Change, and branded “the Internal Combustion engine a mortal threat.”
By the time he was Vice President, Gore favored federal funding for abortion rights, saying, “I talked to a lot of women who taught me about the kinds of circumstances that can come up and the kinds of dilemmas that women can face.” In addition, Gore came to favor increased tobacco regulation and gun control legislation.
Gore’s ideological shift to the left helped secure his stature with the Democratic base nationally, while losing support in his native state of Tennessee. The result is that in 2000, Gore actually lost his home state. Ironically, had Gore won his home state of Tennessee, Gore would have been elected to the Presidency in 2000, regardless of the results in Florida.
In his second two years in office, as he took a more national profile, Romney positioned himself to the right of the political spectrum. Romney became the Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and he spent much of his time out of the state campaigning for Republican candidates and laying the spadework for a 2008 Presidential bid. In 2006, Romney spent 212 days out of Massachusetts, most of it campaigning for Republican candidates around the country.
Romney abandoned his past support for abortion rights and for the regional Green House Gas Initiative (REGA). He championed a federal Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the national level. In addition, Romney, who, as a candidate for Governor promised to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose,” disavowed his past support for abortion rights.
Consequently, Romney left office with a job approval rating of just 36%, and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a loyal Romney ally, lost her bid to succeed him. Democrat Deval Patrick defeated Healey by over 20 points by consistently tethering Healey to Romney.
In the current Presidential election, Romney almost assuredly will lose his home state by a significant margin. The Romney campaign has made no discernable effort to even contest Massachusetts. By contrast, Gore vigorously campaigned in Tennessee but still lost his home state. Ironically, while Romney can in fact become President without carrying Massachusetts, Gore could not become President without carrying Tennessee.
The ideological evolution of Mitt Romney and Al Gore are mirror images: Both are the products of political pedigrees. Both began their political careers as Moderates. Both shifted their political positions as they entered the national political arena. Both became unpopular in their respective home states once they became national political figures.