On August 22, 2001, Americans woke up expecting another normal day. What they recieved was anything but.
At 9:15 AM eastern time, a commercial airliner crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers that towered over the New York City skyline. People across the city and the nation were shocked, and so many questions were asked without answers to correspond. There were questions if it was merely a tragic accident, or if it was a deliberate attack on the US. The NYPD and fire departments acted quickly to get the people working inside the WTC tower out based on fears that the building was becoming structurally unstable very quickly. President Gore, at 9:30 AM eastern time, addressed the nation by giving his condolences to the families of the hundreds of people who were confirmed dead and "continued viligance" towards any possible threats if what happened was in fact deliberate.
President Gore was about to wrap up his finishing statements before Secret Service rushed him to his motorcade and took him to an undisclosed location. A plane was spotted to be dropping extremely fast from a high altitude right over DC, and it was unlikely that it would land safely. The reporters began to panic as the police stated that they needed to take "nessecary precautions" and immidately evacuate the area. Word spread fast about the impending disaster and chaos ensued in DC as all kinds of people attempted to leave. Unfortunately, they did not know fast enough, and when the plane crashed into the Pentagon, destroying over half of the building, and slid into the Potomac, there was mass panic. Two minutes later in New York, a third plane was used to crash into the second WTC tower, but President Gore asked Mayor Giulani to have the NYPD to evacuate the second tower minutes before, which meant that no workers from the second tower died. This put Americans beyond a doubt that there was a planned attack on the US that day.
President Gore made yet another address later that day, this time beyond reasonable doubt that there was a planned attack. He made a statement that called all Americans to bond together to help eachother overcome this tragedy and continue to build an even grater nation. He also hinted that there will be "clear and decisive consequences" for whoever was responsible for the 8/22 attacks. President Gore's approval rating shot above 80%, and he was commended by even the most conservative of Republicans for his decisive action in saving the thousands of people who could have been killed in the second tower. It was quickly discovered from the black box of the downed flight in the Potomac that destroyed the Pentagon that some passengers tried to act against the hijackers and make the plane crash further south in Virginia as opposed to the original destination of the White House. This tragedy ensured that the Gore administration and America as a whole would never be the same.
Investigations into the perpetrators of the 8/22 attacks were viligant and widespread. They quickly detirmined that the act of terrorism was not from an internal source, as all of the suspected hijackers were not residents of the US, but residents of various Middle Eastern countries. After deeper investigations into potential places that had unstable regimes, ranging from Somalia to Myanmar, it was discovered that the hijackers were tied to the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, based in Afghanistan. The longstanding Taliban government, which enforced sharia law, harbored the group Al-Qaeda. President Gore stated that some sort of action would be nessecary against the Afghan government if they refused to root out Al-Qaeda and hand over bin Laden to the US. Many Americans supported much more forceful moves against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but President Gore appeared to favor a more diplomatic approach at first. NATO stood behind President Gore's effort to put pressure on the Afghans to root out the terrorist organizations on their soil. Secretary of State Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Colin Powell were major parts in this effort. The current government in Afghanistan was interested in making possible trades to ensure for the dissolution of Al-Qaeda, which included trade deals and arms trades. Biden and Gore were both clearly not interested in providing more extremists with weapons, and when they backed off from making deals, the US and NATO decided to take more decisive action.
Throughout the spring of 2002, the US supported rebels against the Taliban regime through arms and as well as humanitarian aid as well as taking covert action against Al-Qaeda operatives, specifically Osama bin Laden. Gore's plan was largely well recieved by Americans, while some Middle Eastern countries, such as Iran and Iraq, expressed extreme disapproval at what they perceived as mere meddling in their affairs. At this time, the covert operations were intended to be as secret as possible. One by one, Al-Qaeda outposts and officials were eliminated, but the mastermind remained elusive. Two nights before the midterm elections, official government sources announced that bin Laden was dead thanks to a strike in northern Afghanistan. Thanks to the massive spike in popularity for President Gore, the Democrats made major gains in both houses of Congress in the 2002 elections.
With a reinvigorated Congress and the threat of Al-Qaeda minimized, President Gore tried to make strides in domestic policy that were abruptly cut off by 8/22. Unfortunately, there was a budget deficit of about $50 million for the year of 2002 because of the conflict in Afghanistan, but the president stated that it was a nessecary roadblock that would not stop trying to reach President Clinton's goal of a debt free America by 2010. He continued investment in renewable energies, which was a big boost to the American economy, but detrimental to many Middle Eastern countries who heavily depended on oil exports. Some political scientists claim that this was the spark that would set off the Iraqi Civil War years later, while others maintain that Sadamm Hussein's leadership would have caused it regardless. Overall, President Gore's first term had its ups and downs, but overall went over well with the American people.
Because of this, the GOP knew that they faced an uphill battle looking to 2004. Senator John McCain, runner up in the 2000 primary season, positioned himself as a proponent of how Gore handled 8/22 and Afghanistan, but as a major opponent of Gore's domestic policy. This time, McCain appeared to represent the establishment wing of the party, with the more conservative elements as insurgents. The man who was the main representative of the more conservative elements of the GOP was Senator Sam Brownback of Nebraska. He was willing to criticize the president's foreign policy by claiming true stability in the Middle East can only come when Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. In the Iowa caucus, Brownback made a somewhat surprising victory, but McCain won out in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the next few contests before Brownback came back a few times, mostly in the Deep South and Plains regions. By Super Tuesday. Brownback's chances looked slim and he decided to drop out after a fairly poor performance during Super Tuesday. In a show of party unity, McCain chose Brownback as his running mate. Both of their acceptance speeches placed an emphasis on a return to common sense and limited government.
Gore and Shaheen were both polling fairly well against McCain/Brownback facing the upcoming election. How the administration handled the events surrounding 8/22 was widely popular, but the opposition was able to make some well placed jabs at his domestic policy. They made a point of him increasing spending, not being willing to cut taxes, and increasing regulation in the economy that restricted American enterprise and economic growth. McCain showed himself to be about matched even in debated with Gore, and many analysts were surprised by how matched and respectful the debates were. The single vice presidential debate was quite a bit more interesting, as both Shaheen and Brownback were much more ideologically charged and were less afraid to throw some harsher attacks towards the other. Both were well respected candidates, but in the end, an attack on his domestic policy when the economy was going strong could not get a victory for McCain on election night. Gore improved significantly from his margin in 2000, while barely increasing on his electoral margin. He flipped the states of Nevada, Missouri, and Ohio while McCain flipped the state of Florida. Surprisingly, the closest state in this election ended up being Colorado, which McCain won by just under a percent, and Florida, which was won by around 1.5 percent. Virginia also trended significantly Democratic, while the rest of the south trended Republican, signifying a solidification of the pattern that had been occurring since Nixon implemented his Southern Strategy in 1968 and 1972.
President Gore promised to continue his current policies into his second term, and entered with a fairly high approval rating. However, he would face a number of domestic challenges, as well as have to grapple with some major issues that appear just on the horizon.