- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2000

Sen. John McCain and Bill Bradley Thursday halted their presidential campaigns and grudgingly agreed to support their parties' front-runners, although they hoarded their delegates and held back full endorsements for future clout.
While the insurgents acknowledged that Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore would become the nominees this summer, neither would predict victory for his party.
Mr. Bush "may very well become president of the United States," Mr. McCain allowed in a terse announcement in Sedona, Ariz. Unable to muster more than strained cordiality, he offered the Texas governor his "best wishes."
Mr. Bradley seemed equally pained to relinquish the nomination to Mr. Gore. Rather than let bygones be bygones, the former New Jersey senator scolded the vice president to run "a better campaign in the general election" or he would continue to "say what I feel" about Mr. Gore's "distortions and negativity."
Mr. McCain made no mention of giving up his 231 delegates and Mr. Bradley went out of his way to say he would keep the 412 delegates who have pledged to support him. Delegates must be released before they can support another candidate.
While Mr. Bradley has quit the race for good and Mr. McCain has only "suspended" his candidacy, both seemed determined to wield whatever clout they still possess at their parties' national conventions this summer.
"I will never walk away from a fight for what I know is right and just for our country," Mr. McCain vowed. "What is good for my country is good for my party. Should our party ever abandon this principle, the American people will rightly abandon us."
He asked his supporters to "promise me that you will never give up, that you will continue your service in revitalizing our democracy. Our crusade will never accomplish all its goals if your voices fall silent in our national debate. Stay in this fight with us."
Mr. Bradley also promised to "continue to work for a new politics that's not polluted by money; a politics in which leaders speak from their core convictions and not from polls or focus groups; a politics that's about lifting people up, not tearing your opponent down; a politics that reflects the best in what is in us as Americans and not the worst."
It was precisely the rhetoric that Mr. Bradley had used throughout the campaign to contrast himself with the vice president. After his speech, Mr. Bradley was asked by The Washington Times how he could support a man whom he had routinely characterized as a lying, flip-flopping, former conservative who shouldn't be entrusted with the presidency.
"I've never used … those words," protested Mr. Bradley, who earlier in the press conference declared: "I'm not parsing words today."
Pressed to explain how he could go to work for a man he has accused of repeated distortions, Mr. Bradley said: "I was making comments about the things that took place in the course of the political campaign. And I was calling it like I saw it."
He was then asked by The Times why voters should not view his sudden support of Mr. Gore as just another example of the old-style "politics as usual" that was supposed to be the very antithesis of his campaign.
"Because it's not," Mr. Bradley snapped. "I've been very direct in saying that I felt that there were times where there were distortions and negativity.
But he added: "I also am direct about the need to have a Democratic president."
While Mr. Bradley and Mr. McCain made little effort to conceal the bitterness that lingers after weeks of bruising primaries, the front-runners were magnanimous in their praise of the vanquished challengers. Each issued statements warmly praising the losers.
"I know the competition has made me a better candidate," Mr. Bush said.
"This primary has been good for the Democratic Party and good for the nation," said Mr. Gore. "We Democrats have had a vigorous debate."
President Clinton said Mr. Bradley's high-minded campaign showed "how very much more substantive in my judgment the debate was on the Democratic side, on the issues, and how much more agreement there was. On the Republican side, there was far more disagreement, I think, and it was far less rooted in issues that will really affect the American people."
Mr. McCain, who is famous for spending massive amounts of time answering reporters' queries, uncharacteristically dispensed with the question-and-answer session after his statement Thursday. That left journalists unable to ascertain the precise nature of the Arizona senator's future plans.
One of Mr. McCain's chief supporters, former Rep. Guy Molinari of New York, said the senator is stronger for his upstart bid for the presidency, despite his increasingly bitter war with the party establishment.
"I think John McCain has emerged from this as one of the strongest voices to unite the party. He's the strongest person we have for building the party and expanding our base in the future," said Mr. Molinari, Mr. McCain's New York chairman.
But, he said, "it remains to be seen whether [Republican leaders] are smart enough to realize that… . They may not like John McCain, but they're going to have to deal with him."
Mr. McCain also becomes a natural contender for the vice-presidential spot on Mr. Bush's ticket. Mr. McCain has shown that he is able to attract independent voters. Most of his voters in Michigan, for example, were not Republicans. Mr. Bush might conclude that he needs that crossover appeal to win in November.
But Mr. McCain has been critical of Mr. Bush, calling him "not ready for prime time," which might make it hard for Mr. Bush to accept him as a running mate.
Mr. McCain himself has said he would not accept the vice presidency, but his cryptic statement that he is still open to "serve the country" could be a signal that he might accept the position.
By contrast, Mr. Bradley flatly refused to consider becoming Mr. Gore's running mate. It was the only subject broached at Mr. Bradley's news conference that drew boos from his supporters, who were packed behind reporters in a West Orange, N.J., banquet hall.
In a measure of the lingering antipathy toward Mr. Gore, the Bradley supporters cheered when their candidate ruled out the vice presidency.
Reflecting on his failed candidacy, Mr. Bradley said, "We really didn't get across the extent to which this was not a campaign of self interest, quite frankly." He also complained about the "entrenched power" of Mr. Gore, invoking the phrase no fewer than four times.

Bill Sammon reported from West Orange, N.J., and Sean Scully, from Washington. George Archibald also contributed to this report.

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