- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 4, 2000

The Democratic presidential campaigns opened the 2000 primary season yesterday trying to top one another in promising broad new government programs.

"There are those that say, 'Let's pause, let's rest a bit and survey the view,' but that way, we will only go backward," Bill Bradley said in a speech in Manchester, N.H. "As FDR said, 'Above all, try something.' "

In a speech at a school in Davenport, Iowa, hours later, Vice President Al Gore accused Mr. Bradley of being "limited" in his view of government.

"The risk is that we will squander our hard-earned and historic chance for an era of progressive change and return to years of giant deficits, with little or no progress for working families," Mr. Gore said.

Both men promised sweeping new government initiatives. Both want to use federal money to expand health care coverage. Mr. Bradley proposed using federal funds to hire 600,000 teachers for local schools, while Mr. Gore promised to "revolutionize public education" with the "greatest single increase in our federal commitment to education since the G.I. Bill."

Mr. Bradley also promised a national registry of handguns, "for only when we are safe can we walk without fear."

Mr. Gore went further with a lengthy list of proposals, promising to preserve affirmative-action programs, raise the minimum wage, "rewrite American farm policy," defend organized labor, and "universalize" health care insurance.

He accused Mr. Bradley of being fixated on his health care reform plan to the exclusion of other ideas.

"We can't afford to say that meeting one of these challenges is enough," Mr. Gore said. "All of them are within our reach, if we believe in the idea of America, if we trust one another, and if we make good decisions with good leadership."

The Bradley campaign countered by saying the cost of Mr. Gore's programs would vastly exceed the projected federal budget surplus.

The two men, and their Republican rivals, are beginning a frenzy of campaigning as they enter the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 24 and the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 1.

While neither state carries much weight at the party nominating conventions, they are the first contests of the primary season and are vital tests of the organization and strategy of the candidates.

Mr. Gore is far ahead of Mr. Bradley in national polls and in securing the support of party officials who have a vote at the Democratic convention so Mr. Bradley must make a strong showing in the early contests to have any hope of winning.

While Mr. Gore is the clear national Democratic front-runner, his speech was striking for its defensive tone. Mr. Bradley made no specific mention of his rival, but Mr. Gore devoted a third of his speech to a detailed attack on the upstart.

"Senator Bradley is a good and decent man. He has the right intentions," Mr. Gore said. "But I believe, on many issues, he has the wrong plans."

Polls show Mr. Bradley with a lead of three to six percentage points over Mr. Gore among New Hampshire Democrats and, more ominously for the vice president, with a double-digit lead among Democratic-leaning independents.

Even if Mr. Gore wins the New Hampshire primary, he must do so convincingly to cut off Mr. Bradley's challenge. A poor early showing by a front-runner usually spells trouble President Johnson, for example, pulled out of the 1968 race after eking out a narrow victory in New Hampshire.

Mr. Bradley, meanwhile, sounded like a confident front-runner yesterday, offering only indirect pokes at Mr. Gore, suggesting he is an out-of-touch Washington insider.

"Only those who have embodied the ways of Washington have failed to notice that Americans see Washington as a place that has nothing to do with their real lives," said Mr. Bradley, who retired from the Senate and returned home to New Jersey in 1996.

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