WASHINGTON - For a while, Al Gore's post-election life looked like that of any private citizen - well, any private citizen who has Secret Service protection and a spokesman.
He went to the movies, took his wife to New York to see "The Producers" for their anniversary, expanded his backyard deck, went to his son's lacrosse games, put on too much weight.
But now, six months after losing the presidential race in an extraordinary protracted battle and finding himself in the political wilderness, the former vice president's life is beginning to resemble the very public, very busy life he had led for most of the past 24 years - a life of speeches and donor dinners, airports and hotel rooms, parties, policy and politics.
Those close to Gore say he is not likely to re-enter the public arena in earnest until this fall, and, in his cautious and deliberate manner, is still pondering, as one associate says, "how he wants to emerge."
But as Democrats - and Gore himself - debate his political viability in the aftermath of his historic, photo-finish defeat, the nominee who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College appears to be at least laying the groundwork for a comeback.
"Privately, he's reaching out to a network of political friends and supporters, but it's all pretty low-key," says Carter Eskew, Gore's chief strategist in the 2000 campaign.
In recent weeks, Gore has held informal get-togethers with friends and supporters across the country, including one last week in Minneapolis, where he was giving a speech.
The lunches and dinners are not fund-raisers, Gore's spokesman Kiki McLean says, but rather a way for the former Democratic nominee to thank his supporters. They are also a way to keep once and possibly future contributors interested.
Similarly, Gore recently held a cocktail party at his Tudor-style home in Arlington, Va., for about 100 senior staffers from his campaign, and a larger cash-bar party for more than 1,000 campaign workers at a downtown brew pub where chants of "Gore in Four" greeted the jeans-clad headliner as he shook hands.
He has been talking to supporters about establishing a policy institute in Tennessee - perhaps connected to Vanderbilt University, where he attended divinity school for a year - as well as a political action committee.
"I'm sure he will do everything possible to keep all of his options open," says his 2000 campaign press secretary, Chris Lehane.
`Not sitting around moping'
Friends and associates say that in their conversations and e-mail with Gore, he has generally appeared upbeat and optimistic and, outwardly at least, not obsessed with his heartbreaking loss.
"Has he fully internalized it? As with anyone, it will take some time," one associate said. "But he's not sitting around moping."
Those close to Gore say that, like most of his former staff, he believes he would have won the presidency if the Supreme Court had allowed the Florida recount to be completed. But they say his victory in the popular vote has softened the blow, making his feelings of rejection less painful than they otherwise might be.
Eskew says Gore is also heartened by two lessons he believes the public has learned from the contested election and George W. Bush's victory: that everyone's vote does matter, and that there are major differences between the parties.
"That doesn't mean he didn't feel disappointment and it wasn't difficult for him," the former campaign strategist says. "But he soldiered through it."
Writing and teaching
In fact, he has thrown himself into his new career as a teacher as well as a book he is writing with his wife on the family in America.
In the fall, Gore will resume teaching at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Nashville's Fisk University and Middle Tennessee State University, three schools where he taught courses last semester.
He is also developing a curriculum at the University of California, Los Angeles, for a program on "family-centered community building," a subject he plans to lecture on at several universities. And with former Tennessee governor and two-time GOP presidential candidate Lamar Alexander, he is planning a one-day seminar at Vanderbilt in August on grass-roots political advocacy and civic involvement.
Like former President Bill Clinton, Gore has been hitting the lecture circuit, in some cases collecting sizable paychecks from corporations and industry groups such as the Travel Industry Association of America.
`Gracious thing to do'
Friday, he gave the commencement speech at Sidwell Friends School, the elite private school in Washington from which his son, Albert III, was graduating. And this week, he is scheduled to speak at an Anti-Defamation League dinner in Nashville in honor of Gore and his wife, Tipper, and then head to Seoul, South Korea, to speak at a conference on peace and the environment.