WEST PALM BEACH — The favorite son returned to the troubled home on Friday.
Albert Arnold Gore Jr. came back to Palm Beach County and the bitter memory of butterfly ballots and hanging chads that helped doom his presidential bid in 2000.
"Sooooo, where were we? It's been a long eight years," Gore told a crowd at a convention center about a mile from the former elections office where the confusing ballot was conceived.
His wife, Tipper, at his side and a Barack Obama banner stretched across the stage, Gore engaged in a subtle game of what-if: What if he had won and not George W. Bush?
"The economy started going downhill when the policies were changed and it started on Jan. 20, 2001. I know, I was the first one laid off," he said. "But seriously, right now we are in the final days of this historic election. Don't let anyone take your vote away from you or talk you into throwing it away. …
"Take it from me, elections matter. Every vote matters."
The former vice president was making his first appearance for Obama in Florida, with stops in West Palm Beach and Pompano Beach. Before modest but enthusiastic crowds, he issued an urgent plea for voters to head to the polls before Tuesday. The crowd paid homage in return.
"You're our president," a man shouted at Broward College in Pompano Beach. Gore smiled, but kept on making the case for the new Democratic star.
Gore praised Republican Gov. Charlie Crist's "leadership and statesmanship" for issuing an executive order adding four more hours a day to early voting. He denounced Sen. John McCain as a Bush clone, telling an afternoon audience in Broward County that McCain has overwhelmingly supported the president's policies.
But as much as Gore dutifully played the role of surrogate, the stain of 2000 permeated the day.
"We know it was the curse of the butterfly ballot that brought the chaos to the world. It started here and it must end here," West Palm Beach Mayor Louis Frankel said before Gore took the stage.
The ballot was confusing to many Palm Beach County voters because it listed the names of presidential candidates on opposing pages, apparently leading many in the heavily Democratic county to mistakenly select right-wing, third-party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore.
It was one of a string of mishaps that transfixed the country — indeed, the world — as a recount ensued, only to be stopped by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the end, Gore lost the Florida vote to Bush by 537 votes.
"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed it's going to be better this time," said Blanche Vrooman, 83, who came to hear Gore speak in West Palm Beach. "A lot of us who have voted already wonder if the votes are going to count or not."
Gore, now 60, was an early favorite to run again this year but rebuffed the calls. Since his spectacular defeat he has become one of the leading voices about the threat of global warming, earning him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
"Certainly this will always be part of Palm Beach's and Florida's history as well as his history," said Mitchell Berger, a prominent Democratic fundraiser in Florida and friend of Gore. "He has shown us all how to get up from a defeat and move on and rebuild your life."