There’s an inconvenient political truth for Texas Governor Rick Perry: he was his state’s 1988 campaign chairman for then U.S. Senator Al Gore’s first run at the presidency.
The way their partnership has dissolved and their paths diverged in the past three decades speaks eloquently to the way American politics has been reshaped. Gore has sailed left, while Perry’s political odyssey has seen him tack in the other direction — and to the opposing party. The two men opted for different paths across a dynamic, changing political landscape, and while one man fell short of the White House, the other now contemplates that prize. (See the top 10 debate flubs.)
The tale begins in 1984, four years before Perry took the helm of Gore’s Texas campaign, when Gore, then 36 and a congressional wunderkind from Tennessee, followed in his father’s footsteps by winning a U.S. Senate seat. That same year, Perry, who was 34 and from much humbler roots as the son of a Texas Rolling Plains cotton farmer, won a seat in the Texas house of representatives. Both young men were handsome sons of the South and proudly touted their philosophical bearings in the regionally dominant conservative wing of the Democratic Party.
In 1988, seizing on the opportunity afforded by a lineup of southern primaries on Super Tuesday, Gore announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for President. Ronald Reagan’s second term was drawing to a close, and Republicans were set to nominate the next in line, then Vice President George H.W. Bush. The Democratic field was wide open, with a raft of candidates to the left of Gore, who was dubbed the “southern centrist” by the press.
The young Senator, described by the New York Times as “solidly built, dark and indisputably handsome,” lined up a list of conservative Democratic big-name supporters, including Senators Howard Heflin of Alabama, Terry Sanford of North Carolina, Bennett Johnson of Louisiana and Sam Nunn of Georgia and Governors Jim Hunt of North Carolina and Buddy Roemer of Louisiana. (In 1991 Roemer, like Perry, left the Democratic Party for the GOP; he is now also reportedly considering a Republican presidential run.)