- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2000

INDIANOLA, Iowa Vice President Al Gore promised an audience at Simpson College here yesterday that he would make good on Thomas Jefferson's promise of freedom for everyone.
America must expand freedom for a new generation, he said, and if elected, he will "end discrimination."
But on the morning after the vice president's Des Moines debate with former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, which dealt mostly with civil rights issues, some Iowa voters, whose state is 97 percent white, seemed puzzled by the emphasis on the Confederate battle flag, affirmative action, racial profiling and other civil rights issues as the campaign for Iowa's caucus votes speeds toward its conclusion on Monday.
Mr. Gore spent most of the debate on those issues. Jefferson, he said, did not fully comprehend what he meant when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, "or he would have freed his slaves."
Mr. Gore said he understands what Jefferson did not and will do something about it.
"We must become one America," he said. "This is crucial to who we are as a nation. We must recognize our obligation to extend the power of the American dream."
Such talk clearly baffled some voters.
"It doesn't surprise me for Democrats," said Larry Vignaroli of Des Moines, a registered Republican. "But for Iowa, it does surprise me that all the time would be spent on those issues."
Democrats, too, were puzzled.
"They could have found something else to talk about," said William Malli, a retired union member and Democrat. "A lot more people would have been interested in it. Medicare and Social Security are the two things they need to worry about more than anything else."
"They spent too much time on it," said Mr. Malli, a resident of Carlisle. "You still have some discrimination here, but not as much as most places."
Elmer Payne of Des Moines, a former federal employee on disability, said race isn't important to him. "I think they just dwell on it too much. Like these gay rights I don't care what they do in their own house, but I don't want to hear about it all the time. They say if you don't listen, you're prejudiced. That's a lot of bull."
Others, however, said the issues do need to be discussed, even in mostly white Iowa.
"Seems like there's getting to be more and more minorities around here," said Dwight Mericle of Des Moines.
Dennis Nicholson of Indianola, a retired Methodist minister, agreed that Iowa has few minorities, but said the minority population is growing.
"A lot of people have moved in from Asia and South America," he said.
Both the vice president and the former senator recited what they had done to help minorities, pledged to appoint large numbers of minority-race members to high government posts and vowed to stop the practice of "racial profiling," in which police use race as a criterion for suspicion of lawbreaking. Mr. Bradley said he would consider easing mandatory prison sentences for first-time drug offenders to prevent black men from being disqualified from voting on conviction of a felony.
Chris Lehane, a spokesman for Mr. Gore, defended the emphasis on race in an Iowa debate as something relevant everywhere. "Expanding the circle of human dignity is important wherever you go. It transcends one state."
The Des Moines debate was sponsored by the Iowa Black-Brown Forum, which was founded by Wayne Ford, the only black member of the state legislature. Blacks make up 1.6 percent of 2.9 million Iowans, and Hispanics make up another 1.1 percent.
Mr. Bradley, who like the vice president returned to the campaign trail, conceded that he won't win the caucus vote, but expressed high hopes that he will do well.
"This is a difficult state when you're up against an entrenched power," Mr. Bradley told reporters. "We are reaching out to as many people as possible. We don't have the apparatus, the apparatus is with the vice president. But we do have a lot of enthusiasm."
Mr. Bradley, campaigning in Iowa City, suggested he would exceed 31 percent of the vote in next week's caucuses the level achieved by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1980. "We want to do better than expected in Iowa," Mr. Bradley said. "I look at the historical performance of insurgents in Iowa, which is Ted Kennedy in 1980. He got 31 percent."
However, President Carter subsequently won renomination easily, and was defeated in the general election by Ronald Reagan.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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