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How to gore Al?
Bill Bradley looks for a winning issue. Is it Bill Clinton?

Second of two parts.
Read Part One

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By Jake Tapper

April 23, 1999 | MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Right before the New Hampshire State Democratic Convention at Memorial High School here two weeks ago, Tipper Gore, standing in for her husband, walked right past Bill Bradley, without so much as a hello. Bradley raised his arms in confusion, and Gore, who simply hadn't seen him, rushed back down the hall to give both Bradley and his wife, Ernestine, a hug and kiss.

Before the flatteringly lit, pin-striped Gore addressed the crowd, she made sure to thank the Bradleys. And when Bradley takes the stage -- a somewhat stooped 6-foot-5, with "the body of an 80-year-old man," as his fellow Knicks said 25 years ago -- he's careful not to attack her husband as he delivers what are on the surface unobjectionable remarks about who he is and what he stands for.

It's all very amicable right now between the two Democrats. But in between basketball anecdotes and life-of-the-mind explanations of why he's running for president, it's not hard to discern an anti-Gore subtext in Bradley's subtle digs at President Clinton, the impeached boss whom Gore cannot abandon.

"Principles don't work without trust," he says, leading into the longest and loudest applause line of the convention: "You have to have trust in the president as an individual. And we need to restore that."

Gore "has a taint," agrees Joan Reische, a Manchester baker who helps organize a luncheon for Bradley later that day.

But if you don't believe Gore's garment is stained with unseemly Clinton DNA -- and many Democratic voters will not -- you're going to need a reason or two to pick Bradley. He and Gore don't differ all that much on the issues, since both consider themselves center-leaning "New Democrats." When asked directly why anyone should vote for him as opposed to Gore -- a question Bradley is asked at almost every campaign stop -- Bradley declines to talk substance, saying that he will describe their policy differences in further detail in the fall, when people are paying more attention. He doesn't want to talk about them now lest the press shrug them off later as "old news," he says. He and certain waffling Republicans may eventually regret their reticence on the issues, since the front-loaded primary season means the race will be over by March 7, 2000, and there are signs that voters in the early primary states at least are already tuning in.

In Manchester, however, Bradley hints at a few substantive contrasts between himself and the veep. American economic prosperity, he argues, provides no excuse for the administration's indifference to the "one in five children living in poverty," not to mention "the 44 million Americans who don't have health insurance." On poverty and urban issues, he may run from Gore's left. He opposes the administration-backed welfare reform legislation of 1996, which has been given partial credit for a steep drop in the welfare rolls, but may leave poor children without a safety net when welfare time limits kick in for more states. "The larger issue for Bradley is how do you deal with children in poverty," says his spokesman, Eric Hauser. "Welfare isn't a solution to childhood poverty, with reforms or otherwise."

Exactly what Bradley would do differently about welfare and child poverty, however, still isn't clear. He didn't lay out much in the way of policy prescriptions in a race speech on Tuesday, either, except to commit himself to a children's crusade. He will have to fight Gore for the votes of anti-poverty and civil right leaders, since Gore's work on empowerment zones, urban redevelopment and sprawl issues and Clinton's race panel have made his office the center of what little action has occurred in the Clinton administration on those issues.

Another major difference between the Democrats involves campaign finance reform. Bradley raised $12.9 million from 1985 until 1990, for his Senate reelection as well as for a possible presidential campaign war chest. But when he retired from the Senate and declared that politics was "broken," he was referring to the unfathomable emphasis on raising money. (However much he hates it, however, he seems to be scoring one slam dunk after another: Having raised more than $5 million, Bradley is No. 3 in fund-raising among all the candidates, behind only Gore, with $8,881,977, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, with $7,604,593, according to Federal Election Commission reports.)

"It's an interesting dilemma," Bradley says of trying to raise $500,000 a week while simultaneously arguing for campaign finance reform. In doing so, he gets to subtly dis Gore, whose only two personal scandals to date involve the issue -- his Buddhist temple fund-raising trip and the accusation that he "dialed for dollars" in 1996 from the wrong office. Bradley says that, if elected, "reducing the role of money in politics" will be one of his major priorities. Like Gore, Bradley will accept no PAC contributions, but -- in a direct slap at Gore -- he promises he will not establish a "General Election Legal and Accounting Committee," or GELAC, the campaign apparatus loophole through which Gore hopes to pump up his fund-raising goal from $47 to $55 million. It's not exactly as if voters anywhere have any idea what the hell a GELAC is, but Bradley's calculated message is not lost on political reporters. By bringing it up, Bradley knows who's not going to look so hot when reporters write their pieces about campaign finance reform.

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