- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

CRESTON, Iowa Bill Bradley yesterday vowed to repeatedly hammer Al Gore on farm policy, insisting he can erase the vice president's 21-percentage-point lead in the polls in time for Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses two weeks from today.
Twenty-four hours after what many Iowa observers called a lackluster debate performance against Mr. Gore, the former New Jersey senator seized on the one debate line that seemed to strike the strongest chord with distressed Iowa farmers: "Are you better off today than you were seven years ago?"
"I'm certainly not going to lighten up in terms of what Al Gore and the Clinton administration have failed to do for agriculture in the last seven years," said Mr. Bradley, whose farm policy was first criticized by Mr. Gore in Saturday's debate. "When he comes in and … attacks me for some vote 16 years ago, they've suddenly opened that door."
"I didn't open that door, but they did," Mr. Bradley warned. "It's an invitation to walk through. And I'm walking through it."
Kicking off a bus tour through western Iowa yesterday, Mr. Bradley reminded voters again and again that the farm crisis has deepened under the Clinton-Gore administration. During a rolling press conference between stops in Osceola and Creston, he was asked by The Washington Times if he would adopt a strategy of pounding Mr. Gore's agricultural record down the home stretch.
"Yeah, because the administration doesn't have a leg to stand on," Mr. Bradley said.
In his strongest criticism of Mr. Gore to date on the farm crisis, Mr. Bradley said the vice president's "absence of bold leadership" was directly responsible for the "broken lives and broken dreams and broken rural communities" across the state. "It's just very sad to hear that happening when active public policy could have pre-empted it," he added.
In an attempt to mitigate the damage caused by Mr. Bradley's criticism, the vice president yesterday noted that Ronald Reagan was the first to ask voters if they were better off in 1980 than when President Carter took office. Mr. Bradley said any comparison of himself to Mr. Reagan was "ridiculous" and the "ultimate distortion."
"When we did the tax bill of 1981, the Democratic members of the House and Senate picked one person to go up, mano a mano, against Ronald Reagan on television, national television," Mr. Bradley said. "They picked me and I did it."
Mr. Bradley appeared unfazed by Iowa political analysts who are already beginning to predict a poor caucus showing for the former NBA star on Jan. 24. He insisted that closing the gap in two weeks is "not an impossibility."
"Everything we've been doing since last January is aimed at the next two weeks," Mr. Bradley said. "It's going to depend on how well we've done our job of organizing."
But when he asked his Warren County campaign coordinator for the color of a T-shirt he was about to be given during a speech in Indianola, the man muttered: "I don't know. We're not that organized."
Still, Mr. Bradley remained hopeful.
"I've invested a lot of time here. I've made a lot of friends and a lot of people have put themselves on the line for me," he said. "They have a growing sense of possibility. I do, too. And we're going to finish this."
He added: "We're going to finish it in a way that might surprise some people."
Asked to respond to negative reviews of his performance in Saturday's debate, Mr. Bradley said he opted not to vociferously attack Mr. Gore because the exchange was being watched by their biggest audience in Iowa to date.
"These debates are opportunities to communicate," Mr. Bradley said. "It's not like the high school debating society, where somebody's there [tallying] points."
Ultimately, he said, impressions are determined "by individuals alone watching such a thing. I feel confident about what I did, [but] you don't ultimately know whether it got through."
Mr. Bradley also shrugged off fears by some Democratic activists that he and Mr. Gore will spend so much money on TV ads that the eventual nominee will be broke just in time to face an onslaught of ads from Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential front-runner.
"America's about competition," Mr. Bradley said. "People are sharper because they have competition. I think that either one of us that emerges in this race will be a better prepared general-election candidate because of the competition."
Mr. Bradley also accused the Democratic National Committee of neglecting him early in his campaign, which was why he has raised no money for the DNC. Mr. Gore, by contrast, has raised millions for the organization.

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