- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

MANCHESTER, N.H. Al Gore last night denied distorting the record of Bill Bradley, who tried to dispel his passive image by hammering the vice president for attack politics last night in the most vitriolic debate of the Democratic campaign.

Mr. Gore, who in 1988 was the first presidential candidate to raise the issue of Willie Horton, a black murderer who raped a white woman while on a weekend furlough, last night said Mr. Bradley "is the one who brought Willie Horton into this campaign."

Mr. Bradley ridiculed Mr. Gore's claim that he is not campaigning negatively, comparing him to former President Nixon, "the kind of politician who would chop down a tree, then stand on the stump and give a speech about conservation."

"It just won't fly," Mr. Bradley said.

Pressed by moderator Judy Woodruff of CNN on charges that he has distorted Mr. Bradley's record and run a mean-spirited campaign, the vice president professed innocence.

"I have never run a negative personal attack about my opponent and I never will," he said. He said people should not "confuse free-spirited debate on substantive issues with negative attacks."

Mrs. Woodruff also pressed Mr. Bradley on perceptions that he might not be enough of a fighter to face a Republican nominee in the general election.

"If you look at my record in the United States Senate, you'd see a lot of fights that I made that were very successful," he said, citing his fight to prevent hospitals from discharging women 24 hours after giving birth. "I got angry and introduced legislation; I marshaled public support," he said.

"I fight for my convictions, [not] politics as usual."

Asked by WMUR moderator Tom Griffith to recall his worst behavior during his NBA career, the former New York Knick chuckled and admitted he occasionally held Boston Celtics player John Havlicek. "There are elbows that are thrown," Mr. Bradley said. "That's part of the game."

But, he added, "politics is different. Politics should be something that is higher. Politics should be something that elevates us, not drags us down."

In one of the most pointed exchanges of the combative, hourlong debate, Mr. Bradley essentially accused the vice president of lying about whether he is a negative campaigner.

"Why should we believe you would tell the truth as president if you won't tell the truth as a candidate?" Mr. Bradley said.

"That's not a negative attack?" Mr. Gore shot back. He went on to recount a flier that the Bradley campaign retracted after complaints from the Gore camp.

Mr. Bradley countered that he had pulled the unauthorized flier immediately, while the vice president continues to distort his record. He said comparing the flier to the ongoing Gore assault was like comparing a gnat to an elephant. "You're the elephant of negative advertising," Mr. Bradley said.

Mr. Bradley, who appeared more energized than at any time since his demoralizing defeat in the Iowa caucuses on Monday, kept the vice president on the defensive throughout the debate, peppering him again and again with accusations that he is running a dirty campaign. "It's politics as usual," he said. "A thousand promises, a thousand attacks."

Mr. Gore, for his part, tried hard to portray Mr. Bradley as the one who has chosen the low road in this campaign.

Mr. Gore denied that there was any "Clinton fatigue" among voters.

"I think what you're picking up is that people are tired of the whole discussion about the president's personal mistake," Mr. Gore said. "By and large they think he has been a great president, turning the economy around."

He was quick, however, to distance himself from the current roster of Clinton aides. "This is going to be a fresh new administration," he said.

The candidates attacked each another once again on their health care plans.

When Mr. Gore said he favors "universal health care," Mr. Bradley shot back that his plan "doesn't get there, anywhere close to there."

"You nibble around the edges," he said.

Mr. Gore, meanwhile, repeated his charge that Mr. Bradley's plan would wipe out the Medicare program in favor of a much more limited voucher system that would buy only the most bare-bones insurance plan.

If a Republican proposed such a plan, he said, "you and I and every Democrat would be up in arms criticizing such a proposal."

On foreign policy, Mr. Bradley pledged to continue the current sanctions on Iraq, but he said he would try to keep Saddam Hussein "pinned down, surrounded through diplomatic efforts."

Mr. Bradley defended his opinion that the military budget should not be increased the only major candidate of either party to say so.

"We're in a new era," he said, when Cold War eras could be eliminated and bases consolidated more aggressively to save money.

He called for funding of the "arsenal ship" to replace the traditional aircraft carrier. The arsenal ship would be a highly automated floating fortress armed with a range of high-tech missile and weapons.

Mr. Gore, meanwhile, defended the administration's continued support for aid to Russia despite the brutal war in Chechnya. Mr. Gore pointed out that Russia still has thousands of nuclear warheads and he would not support cutting off money for disarmament efforts.

But, he said, the administration has blocked other forms of aid, including IMF loans.

Before, during and after the debate, spin doctors from both sides prowled the press room, passing out documents that portrayed the opposition in a negative light and praising their candidates to reporters.

Gore supporter John Kerry, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, complained that Mr. Bradley "whined" too much during the debate. Bradley spokesman Eric Hauser countered that his boss had merely told the truth, which he said Gore backers "clearly can't handle."

After the debate, Mr. Bradley entered the press room and accused the vice president of lying in the campaign. Mr. Gore did not make a post-debate appearance to reporters.

Mr. Bradley's campaign yesterday sought to pre-empt rumblings that he should get out of the Democratic race so that Mr. Gore can reserve some of his campaign war chest to fight the eventual Republican nominee in the general election. To that end, Mr. Bradley's aides signaled that the former senator would fight for at least another six weeks, regardless of whether he wins the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday.

By this weekend, the Bradley campaign is expected to reveal detailed plans to fight Mr. Gore at least through the next round of primaries, which will be held March 7.

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