Al Gore lost Florida, and hence the presidency, by 537 votes in 2000. If the Elian Gonzalez affair had not emerged as an issue in the 2000 election, Gore would have probably won Florida and won the presidency.
Gonzalez's mother drowned in November 1999 while attempting to leave Cuba with her son and her boyfriend to get to the United States. Elian survived and was placed for months with paternal relatives in Miami. But Elian's father in Cuba requested that the boy be returned to him. A federal district judge, as well as Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno felt the law was on the side of Elian's father, and ordered that Elian be returned to his father in Cuba. This enraged anti-Castro Cuban immigrants in Florida.
Vice President Gore initially supported Republican legislation to give the boy and his father permanent residence status in the U.S., but later supported the Clinton Administration position. He was attacked by both for pandering and being inconsistent.
In his novella, "43: When Gore Beat Bush," Jeff Greenfield makes this a central point for how Gore could have won the 2000 election. If Elian Gonzalez's mother did not die in the crossover from Cuba, thereby polarizing the Cuban-American community about what should happen to Elian, thousands of Florida voters would not have been alienated against Gore for waffling on the case. Gore received just 20 percent of Cuban-American votes, whereas Bill Clinton in 1996 received 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote.
However, Greenfield goes on to speculate that Gore would have had a frustrating and fractured four years as president. Republicans would have felt the election was stolen due to extremely close votes in Wisconsin, New Mexico and other close states. Gore would not have been a favorite of liberals because he was determined to prove he was not a "big government liberal" and would have sought federal programs and departments to abolish.
Gore would have been much more attuned to the threat of Al Qaeda, and might well have worked with NSA Director Richard Clarke to have Bin Ladin killed before 9/11. But he would have gotten little credit for that because few people had heard of Bin Ladin or Al Qaeda or knew it was a serious threat.
The threat of terrorist attacks from Islamic extremists would have remained because the American bureaucracy simply wasn't prepared to defend against such attacks, Greenfield argues. Vice President Joe Lieberman would have pushed Gore hard to attack Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. If Gore resisted, and Greenfield argues that he would have, Lieberman likely would have resigned in protest.
With both liberal and conservative Democrats disappointed with Gore, and after 12 years of Democrats in the White House, Greenfield suggests Gore likely would have been beaten by John McCain in 2004. McCain would have eagerly attacked Iraq, so that fiasco probably would not have been avoided either.