The answer is simple--No candidate wins a majority of the delegates in the Democratic primaries and caucuses and thus no candidate is guaranteed the nomination at the Democratic Convention. After the first or second round of voting, delegates who are pledged to a particular candidate are by rule released and can vote for whomever they choose. Gore is drafted, his name is placed in nomination, and rather than pick a candidate who could not garner a majority of Democratic primary voters, the Convention rallies around Gore who, of course, has already won the popular vote for President once before.
A fantasy? Maybe. But Democratic Party delegate selection rules make such a scenario conceivable. Approximately 80% of the Democratic Convention delegates are selected through primaries and caucuses. These delegates are awarded on a proportional basis. Any candidate receiving at least 15% of the votes in a congressional district receives a proportional number of delegates. For example, if, in a Congressional district, Hillary Clinton received 35% of the votes, Barack Obama and John Edwards each received 25%, and another Candidate--say Bill Richardson or Joe Biden received 15%--The delegates would be awarded in that proportion. In a multi-candidate race, it is conceivable that no candidate would receive a majority of the elected delegates before the Convention. After one or two Convention ballots in which no candidate receives a majority, the pledged delegates are released and can vote for whomever they please, including a drafted Al Gore.
There's a further wild card. There are a number of so-called "super-delegates" consisting of Democratic House and Senate Members, Democratic Governors, members of the Democratic National Committee, and a handful of others who are not pledged to any candidate. On the one hand, if no candidate received a majority of the pledged delegates, it is conceivable that enough of the super-delegates could commit to the candidate with a plurality of the pledged delegate and guarantee that candidate's nomination on the first ballot. On the other hand, the super-delegates might be reluctant to back a weakened candidate who could not receive a majority of support from Democratic primary voters and might leave it to the Convention to pick the candidate.
This scenario seemed more likely a few months ago in which there was a multi-candidate Democratic field with a number of candidates having the potential of receiving more than the 15% threshold and denying any candidate a majority of the pledged delegates. At this moment, 3 months out from the first caucuses and primaries, Hillary Clinton is opening up a commanding lead in national polls (less so in Iowa and New Hampshire), although still less than 50%. (As of today, an open Republican Convention seems more likely, with a 4 way race between Giuliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain making the possibility of no Republican garnering a majority of the elected delegates a real possibility.)
But, if, as the voters become more focused with Democratic primaries and caucuses growing closer, Democratic voters--who tell pollsters that they now support Hillary based on fame and name recognition--take a second look and start to have reservations about her electability and her triangulating political stances, this calculus could change. If Hillary to slipped in Iowa and New Hampshire; if her polling should fall to less than 40%; if John Edwards can increase his support against Clinton, making it at least a 3-way race instead of a 2-way race between Clinton and Obama; and if other candidates like Richardson and Biden can pass the 15% threshold to collect delegates in several states, it is still possible that no candidate would garner more than 50% of the elected Convention delegates.
How should Gore respond to all of this? I think it unlikely that he will choose to enter the Democratic primaries. While he may still have dreams of claiming the Presidency that was taken from him in 2000, I believe he is truly adverse to participating in a 14 month electoral campaign. Running in the Democratic primary could also reduce him from an icon to an ordinary politician and while, he would certainly garner significant support, there is no guarantee he could overtake Hillary at this point.
An open Convention would become more likely if Gore were to endorse either Edwards or Obama in the primaries, both of whom are closer to Gore's politics than Hillary. An Edwards endorsement would go a long way towards turning it back into a 3-way race. An Obama endorsement could open the way to a Gore-Obama ticket if there's an open Convention and Gore were to be drafted. At the same time, Gore can maintain an ambiguous stance when asked if he would accept a Convention draft, stating that he is not seeking it, but would have to give it serious consideration if his party turned to him at the Convention. The possibility that Gore could be nominated in an open Convention might encourage a significant number of Democratic voters not to rally around a Clinton bandwagon and give their votes to other primary candidates.
It would not be so bad for the Democrats to be without a certain candidate between the end of the primary season and the Democratic Convention. It would prevent the Republicans from focusing on a particular Democrat to Swift Boat. At the same time, it is possible that the Republicans could also be without a guaranteed Convention nominee.
If Gore were to be drafted in an exciting nominating Convention, he would emerge unscarred as a candidate and with tremendous momentum to run a short and high-energy campaign from September to November. Campaign contributions would roll in. The Democratic base would be energized. The Republican base would not be as galvanized to come to the polls to express their hatred of Hillary. It's hard to imagine than many people who voted for Gore in 2000 would not vote for him again, and it likely that millions more who regret their vote for Bush would now want to give Gore a second chance. It could be the most exciting Presidential campaign in memory.
A dream? Perhaps. But not an impossible dream.