- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who spent the presidential primaries denouncing Vice President Al Gore as a lying, flip-flopping, closet conservative, Thursday enthusiastically endorsed him for president.

"Today, I want to make it clear that I endorse Al Gore for president of the United States," Mr. Bradley exclaimed at a Wisconsin amusement park.

It was a far cry from Mr. Bradley's bitter, grudging withdrawal from the Democratic primary March 9, when he refused to utter the word "endorse" and continued to complain about Mr. Gore's "distortions and negativity."

It took 126 days for Mr. Bradley to endorse his rival, or more than twice the 62 days it took Arizona Sen. John McCain to endorse Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The long-awaited show of Democratic unity came on a day when President Clinton lauded Mr. Gore during a speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Baltimore. But Mr. Bradley's endorsement carried much more political weight because he was attempting to paper over months of antipathy toward Mr. Gore.

"I'm here in Green Bay today because I believe what Vince Lombardi once said is true: Winning is a team sport," the former NBA star said. "Our party is strongest when we're unified, when we speak with one voice, when we work to guarantee a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president."

The Republican National Committee gleefully released a list of Mr. Bradley's "greatest hits," which consisted of 17 pages of criticisms of the vice president in debates and interviews.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore exhibited an almost visceral dislike during their long primary battle.

But there were only kind words Thursday as Mr. Bradley lauded Mr. Gore. The two men, who have spoken by phone only twice since Mr. Bradley quit the race, huddled privately for 40 minutes before the public rapprochement.

"I'm especially pleased to be here with Al Gore," said a suntanned Mr. Bradley, whose long-sleeves were rolled up above his elbows in the hot summer sun. "The Democratic Party is a place of many different voices, but all with the same values. It's why we're Democrats."

Shouting over a dozen protesters who called out "Liar, liar," Mr. Bradley made clear that when it comes to the vice president and the Texas governor, he considers Mr. Gore the lesser of two evils.

"I believe that Democrats have a better chance of guiding America to a brighter future than do Republicans," he said. "And it's not even close."

Although Mr. Bradley was careful not to say anything that might be construed as criticism of his rival, he spoke wistfully of his 15-month presidential campaign and left no doubt he would have preferred to vanquish Mr. Gore.

"I had a remarkable experience," he said, defining experience as "what you get when you don't get what you really wanted. Indeed, Democratic voters spoke and selected Vice President Gore as our party nominee."

Mr. Bradley, who once chided the vice president for exaggerating his role in the creation of the Internet, Thursday touted Mr. Gore's technological prowess as a major qualification for the presidency.

"There's another reason that I endorse" Mr. Gore, he said. "More and more of our future will depend on forces and scientific breakthroughs that many Americans don't fully understand."

He added: "Vice President Gore has a deep understanding of those technological forces changing America. I know he will strive to keep America ahead of those forces so that they maximize our future for the greatest number of Americans."

Mr. Bradley exchanged a high-five with Mr. Gore, who stepped to the podium and returned the compliment.

"Thank you for your kind words, for your endorsement," said the visibly relieved vice president. "There is no more passionate voice for justice and equality in all of America than Sen. Bill Bradley."

Unlike Mr. McCain's endorsement of Mr. Bush on May 5, when the two Republicans faced reporters to field numerous questions, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore dispensed with the customary joint press conference.

Although Mr. Gore said he looks "forward to working with Bill Bradley," the two men separated immediately after the meeting.

Mr. Gore headed to Michigan to campaign and Mr. Bradley went off to work on a book, which he plans to promote heavily during the fall with signings in more than a dozen cities.

Mr. Bradley quit the presidential race the same day as Mr. McCain, with both men refusing to issue full-throated endorsements of the victors. Although the Democratic battle often took on personal overtones, the press spent weeks focusing on the Republican rift and ignored Mr. Bradley's lingering animosity toward the vice president.

On May 10, the day Mr. McCain endorsed the Texas governor, The Washington Times reported that Mr. Bradley was continuing to withhold his endorsement from Mr. Gore. The two camps promptly intensified talks, which resulted in Thursday's endorsement.

Although Mr. Bradley lost every caucus and primary, he amassed 300 Democratic delegates that he still has. He is not expected to release them to Mr. Gore unless and until he is assured of a prominent speaking role at next month's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Mr. Bradley, a devoted liberal, pulled the vice president to the left during their hard-fought contest, with Mr. Gore even temporarily vowing to make acceptance of homosexuals in the military a litmus test for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Many liberals who supported Mr. Bradley have since thrown their weight behind Ralph Nader of the Green Party.

Mr. Gore hopes Thursday's endorsement by Mr. Bradley will win back some of those liberals and solidify the Democratic base. Democratic leaders have expressed alarm at the surprising strength of Mr. Nader's efforts to cut into the vice president's support.

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