- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2000

DURHAM, N.H. Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley rang in a new year of presidential debates last night with their testiest confrontation of the Democratic primary, clashing over their liberal credentials on gun control, homosexuals in the military and regulations to limit campaign donations.

Mr. Gore went so far as to pledge he would nominate to the Joint Chiefs of Staff only military officers who agree with his goal of overturning President Clinton's "don't ask, don't tell" policy for homosexuals serving in the armed forces.

"I would insist, before appointing anyone to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that individual would support my policy," Mr. Gore said. "And yes, I'll make that a requirement."

Mr. Bradley used their fourth debate, held less than four weeks before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary Feb. 1, to continue painting Mr. Gore as an out-of-touch Washington politician who gave up his political soul in the service of President Clinton.

"I think you're in a Washington bunker," Mr. Bradley said, facing the vice president on the stage at the University of New Hampshire. "I can understand why you're in a bunker… . I think the major objective in the White House in the last several years has been political survival. I understand that. But the reality is, the Democratic Party shouldn't be in the Washington bunker with you."

The contest came as a new poll released this week showed Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley in a virtual statistical tie.

But Mr. Gore tried to use his second-place status in other New Hampshire polls to his advantage, again urging Mr. Bradley to forgo paid political advertisements and to hold two debates each week.

"The polls say you're ahead," Mr. Gore told Mr. Bradley. "I'm asking the people of New Hampshire to give me a come-from-behind victory here."

Mr. Bradley retorted, "You know, Al, your underdog pitch brings tears to my eyes."

Mr. Gore shot back that he hoped to bring tears to Mr. Bradley's eyes by beating him Feb. 1.

On the issue of homosexuals serving in the military, Mr. Gore said he would apply a "litmus test" for nominees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"I would try to bring about the kind of change in policy on the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy that President Harry Truman brought about after World War II in integrating the military," Mr. Gore said. "And I think that would require those who wanted to serve … on the Joint Chiefs to be in agreement with that policy."

Mr. Bradley stopped short of Mr. Gore's "litmus test," saying he simply expected the Joint Chiefs would follow his orders if he were elected president.

"As president, you are commander in chief, and you issue orders, and soldiers are good soldiers, and they follow your orders," Mr. Bradley said. "I'm sure there are people in the military today who don't agree with President Clinton… . But my sense is, when you're president of the United States, military people are loyal to their commander in chief, whatever the policy the commander in chief calls for."

Mr. Bradley also said he considers homosexual rights "fundamental human decency."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Gore received the endorsement of New England's liberal icon, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, after heavy lobbying of Mr. Kennedy by the White House and the Gore campaign.

Mr. Kennedy said the vice president has "the ability, the vision and the experience to lead this nation wisely and well in the coming years."

Mr. Gore said he was "honored." But Mr. Bradley said the endorsement was typical of Mr. Gore's hold on "entrenched power" in the Democratic Party and said Mr. Gore was becoming "desperate."

"He has a president who is supporting him, loyal to him as he was loyal to the president," Mr. Bradley said. "He rides on Air Force Two. That is entrenched power."

Mr. Gore holds a substantial lead over Mr. Bradley in national polls. The two Democrats will debate twice more in the next week.

Last night's debate took on an added sense of urgency, heightened by dozens of students who chanted slogans like "Gore Go Home" outside the debate hall.

Supporters of Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley appeared about evenly divided, including one bare-chested young man who sported a large red "B" painted on his chest in the below-freezing temperatures.

Asked if they were afraid of being labeled "liberal," both men defended their positions on gun control, homosexual rights and increased federal spending on health care without actually using the word "liberal."

"I'll accept whatever label you want," Mr. Bradley said. "The issue is, how strong are you willing to hold your convictions?"

Said Mr. Gore, after listing his liberal stances, "I accept whatever they want to call that."

The debate opened with Mr. Gore having to defend his loyalty to the president during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent impeachment, when he said Mr. Clinton would be regarded as one of the nation's "greatest presidents."

"I was critical of the president," Mr. Gore said. "As an American, I also defended the office of the presidency against an effort by partisan Republicans in the House and Senate to deliver a thoroughly disproportionate penalty for a serious and reprehensible personal mistake."

Said Mr. Bradley, "The vice president was, I think, vice president, which means that he was not critical of the president. I personally believe any time a public official, a president, lies, he undermines his authority and squanders people's trust. It's a sad period of our history, and I'm glad it's over."

Mr. Bradley also criticized the vice president on gun control, asking why he doesn't support, as Mr. Bradley does, registering and licensing all 65 million guns in the United States.

Mr. Gore said he supports licensing of all new handguns and wants to eliminate some weapons like "Saturday night specials," but he tempers his goals with the reality that the gun lobby is very powerful politically.

"We have to find a way to make our political system work," Mr. Gore said.

Mr. Bradley said Mr. Gore's gun-control stance was a leadership issue.

"Where would the country be if Franklin Roosevelt said Social Security is too difficult to do?" he asked.

The debate was sponsored by New England Cable News, New Hampshire Public Television and the Union Leader newspaper of Manchester. The moderator was ABC's Peter Jennings.

The six candidates for the Republican presidential nomination will debate at the same site tonight.

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