- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

The Democrats' boxing gloves are off a week before the Iowa caucuses as Bill Bradley fights to keep his presidential campaign intact.

Mr. Bradley, who debates Vice President Al Gore tonight in Des Moines, trails by 20 points or more in recent Iowa surveys.

He is trying to keep Iowa from becoming his Waterloo by downplaying expectations. He notes that another Democratic insurgent, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, managed only 31 percent against President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Iowa caucuses.

Mr. Bradley, who had vowed to run a positive race, is going negative. Last week, the former New Jersey senator hammered Mr. Gore for casting a pro-tobacco vote in 1985 and for raising the "Willie Horton" furlough issue against fellow Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign.

Mr. Bradley is blanketing Iowa with a variety of media messages. Over the weekend, he launched a new television ad in which Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York says Mr. Bradley would restore voters' trust in the presidency.

Mr. Bradley also announced a new Web site about the caucuses, www.caucusforbradley.com, that features a greeting from Los Angeles Lakers Coach Phil Jackson.

Mr. Bradley, a former New York Knicks basketball player, was renowned for his outside shot. But the Iowa caucuses are an insider's game.

Iowa is a state of 1.9 million registered voters. But neither party has ever turned out more than 110,000 caucus voters. Labor unions, which back the vice president, could make a critical difference herding Gore activists to the polls next Monday.

"Senator Bradley is going to have a difficult time reacting and reaching the core of the Democratic Party in Iowa," Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack told CNN Jan. 8.

"Caucus goers are heavily unionized, heavily organized" and "the vice president has a lock on those folks," the Democratic governor said.

Mr. Gore is trying to make Mr. Bradley look particularly insensitive to Iowa farmers who sought relief after devastating floods in 1993. Last week, Mr. Gore began airing a television ad about flood relief that features Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat.

"Al Gore was the only Democratic candidate for president who helped make sure that Iowa got the help we desperately needed after those floods," Mr. Harkin says.

Mr. Bradley voted against a $1 billion amendment Mr. Harkin submitted, but the New Jersey senator did vote for the final bill that allocated nearly $6 billion in flood relief.

During a Jan. 8 debate in Iowa, Mr. Gore asked Mr. Bradley to tell a farmer in the audience why he had voted against the flood-relief amendment. Mr. Bradley appeared dismissive when he said the race is "about the future" and not the past.

Mr. Gore kept up the pressure Thursday when he flew a New Jersey farm family to Iowa to criticize Mr. Bradley's agricultural record.

To make matters worse, Mr. Bradley's appeal for racial reconciliation is not a top priority in a state that is 97 percent white.

For months, Mr. Bradley vowed not to dignify Mr. Gore's attacks. But last week, he began to level his own. He criticized Mr. Gore for voting against a Bradley anti-tobacco amendment in 1985 when both served in the U.S. Senate. The amendment would have eliminated a planned reduction in the tobacco tax.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane says Mr. Bradley is acting desperate because he has been knocked off stride.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore both have $19 million on hand to spend during the primaries. That means Mr. Bradley can continue to compete with Mr. Gore into the March primary blitz, even if he loses in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

But cash is less important in a caucus state dominated by activists than in the primary states, such as New Hampshire, where voters go to the polls Feb. 1.

Mr. Bradley planned to spend $700,000 on television ads in the last two weeks of the Iowa campaign. But showing ads to the masses may not motivate voters to attend the caucuses in 2,135 precincts across Iowa.

In 1996, only 95,000 people voted in Iowa's Republican caucuses that featured Bob Dole against Pat Buchanan. On the Democratic side, President Clinton was unopposed and only 50,000 voters went to the caucuses.

Iowa is almost evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and independents, who register with no party affiliation.

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