- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

''I would like to make a proposal," Vice President Al Gore, in a seemingly desperate gesture, said to former Sen. Bill Bradley during their debate on NBC's "Meet the Press" last month. "If you will agree, I will stop running all television and radio commercials until this nomination is decided," Mr. Gore offered. "What about it?" In as contemptuous a voice as he could muster, Mr. Bradley called Mr. Gore's idea "a ridiculous proposal," telling the vice president, "It sounds to me like you're having trouble raising money" to which Mr. Gore responded, "No, as a matter of fact, I'm not." Well, as a matter of fact, he was.

As Mr. Gore's campaign confirmed 10 days after the debate, when it released its preliminary report on fund-raising during 1999's fourth quarter, the vice president has indeed encountered some difficulty raising money. Mr. Gore, whom aides nicknamed "Solicitor-in-Chief" for his fund-raising prowess during the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, raised a mere $4 million during last year's final quarter. To reach even that modest level reportedly required the hasty scheduling of three additional fund-raisers. By comparison, Mr. Bradley raised a hefty $8 million during the previous three months, or double the vice president's tally. That brought Mr. Bradley's 1999 total to $27 million, which put him virtually even with Mr. Gore's total. Moreover, given the vice president's spendthrift ways during the first nine months of the year, Mr. Bradley's campaign actually entered 2000 with more money in the bank, even after considering federal matching funds.

Calling the $27 million Mr. Bradley raised in 1999 a "stunning number," Stuart Rothenberg, the authoritative, nonpartisan political analyst and newsletter publisher, told The New York Times, "Given the advantages that Gore ought to have, these figures have to be frightening to the vice president." Call it the "electability issue." Retiring New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was a colleague of Messrs. Bradley and Gore throughout their congressional tenures, has endorsed Mr. Bradley, declaring that Mr. Gore was unelectable in November. Peter Hart, a longtime Democratic pollster, found in a recent poll that nearly as many voters nationally had a negative view of Mr. Gore (35 percent) as had a positive view (38 percent). In contrast, more than four times as many voters nationally had a positive view of Mr. Bradley than had a negative view (42 percent vs. 10 percent).

Indisputably, Mr. Gore continues to enjoy a large lead over Mr. Bradley among likely Democratic primary voters across the nation. He also holds a massive lead among the so-called superdelegates, who are party officials guaranteed a place at the Democratic convention. Before Mr. Bradley began pouring more than $800,000 this month into television and radio commercials throughout Iowa before the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses, Mr. Gore led Mr. Bradley by about 20 percentage points in that state. But several recent polls in New Hampshire, which will hold the nation's first primary on Feb. 1, have put Mr. Bradley's lead over the vice president at more than 10 percentage points.

A respectable performance by Mr. Bradley in Iowa, where Mr. Gore's union endorsements give the vice president an overwhelming organizing advantage, and a Bradley victory in New Hampshire could reverberate throughout Democratic precincts across the country. The guess here is that Mr. Gore's national lead among prospective Democratic voters, while 3,000 miles wide, is about a centimeter deep. It might not take much to topple President Clinton's designated heir if he is scuffed up in Iowa and New Hampshire. According to Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, another longtime Democratic colleague of Messrs. Bradley and Gore who has yet to endorse either candidate, Mr. Gore already almost blew his substantial lead. "Had Gore not altered the terrain in September," when he moved his campaign headquarters to Tennessee and changed his wardrobe, Mr. Biden told The New York Times recently, "he'd be gone by now. He was on such a slide through the summer." While it is difficult to believe Mr. Gore was in such precarious shape in September, it isn't at all difficult to envision circumstances that could topple his candidacy after poor showings in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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