- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2000

Bill Bradley yesterday tried to dispel the growing sense of doom gathering over his campaign, but last night's Democratic presidential debate against Vice President Al Gore only added to the speculation.

Early in the day, Mr. Bradley denied rumors he is about to drop out of the race, even as some advisers urged him to quit.

"Zero have come to me and said you ought to drop out," Mr. Bradley said during a morning campaign stop in Huntington Beach, Calif. "Let me just say that Mark Twain put it best when he said reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated."

But at last night's debate in Los Angeles, both candidates acted as though the Democratic campaign was all but over.

When Mr. Bradley was asked about mistakes he had learned from, he gave a reflective answer about living with failure.

Mr. Bradley said his mistake was "to believe that you never fail."

Joining the New York Knicks in 1967, he recalled, "I was taught to be the 'White Hope.' I was going to save the Knicks." When he sputtered in his first pro basketball season, he learned the importance of "coming to terms with failure."

Mr. Bradley has purchased five minutes of national television time on CBS, to air at 10:54 tonight.

Aides said Mr. Bradley will not issue a withdrawal statement. He will instead argue that he is the true reformer among the five presidential candidates.

Mr. Bradley "knows that it's going to take a miracle for him to win," Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, a Bradley supporter, said yesterday.

Mr. Kerrey said Mr. Bradley told him this week he will quit the race if he does poorly in next week's primaries.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Gore will vie for 1,315 delegates Tuesday in 15 states from Maine to California. The former New Jersey senator is not leading anywhere and is trailing by huge margins in some of the biggest states.

But Bradley spokesman Eric Hauser promised Mr. Bradley will continue through Tuesday.

"We expect to be extremely competitive," Mr. Hauser said.

At the debate, Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley spent more time disagreeing with the principal Republican candidates than each other.

When asked about campaign-finance reform, Mr. Bradley took the opportunity to attack Arizona Sen. John McCain for insufficient zeal on the issue without hinting at the 1996 Clinton-Gore fund-raising scandals.

Mr. Bradley also took aim at Texas Gov. George W. Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University, which opposes interracial dating and Catholicism. He said the speech showed that "the new conservatism is not a lot different from the old conservatism."

In contrast to their testy debate at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, Mr. Gore said, "I agree with Senator Bradley" or similar words more than a half-dozen times.

Mr. Gore also reiterated his call for twice-weekly debates in exchange for a foreswearing of TV ads, but aimed it at Republicans, not Mr. Bradley.

In response to a question about Tuesday fatal school shooting in Michigan, Mr. Gore repeated his stance in favor of stronger gun control. He also proudly stated that the National Rifle Association had targeted him over his support for the Brady Bill.

Mr. Bradley, however, did not repeat his oft-stated charge that Mr. Gore was a "poster child" for the NRA when he was a "conservative congressman" from Tennessee.

In a similar vein, Mr. Bradley said the Amadou Diallo shooting reflected "how deeply racial profiling had seeped into the mind of those who were in the police department."

Not only did he not mention his constant challenge to Mr. Gore that, as the vice president, he should walk down the hall to the Oval Office and demand that President Clinton sign an executive order, but he complemented Mr. Gore for calling for more minority police officers and tracking the race of traffic stops.

"Well, what I would do, in addition to the challenge that Al offered to everyone, is that I would issue an executive order ending racial profiling in federal agencies," Mr. Bradley said. "I'd pass a law to make sure that every police department had to keep track of who they arrested and what race the person they arrested was."

Early in the debate, Mr. Gore reiterated his commitment to taxpayer financing of abortion and his pro-choice stance. Not until specifically prompted by a questioner late in the debate did Mr. Bradley mention Mr. Gore's 84 percent pro-life voting record as a congressman.

Mr. Bradley was then asked whether he thought the vice president would revert to his earlier stances on abortion and guns, Mr. Bradley admitted that Mr. Gore no longer took those stances.

"When you run for the presidency, your public record is important" and that was why he had brought the old votes up, Mr. Bradley said. "But [Mr. Gore's position] has evolved, and I'm glad it has evolved."

Mr. Bradley's chances in Tuesday's key states appeared to wither as he dawdled in the Pacific Northwest. New polls show he trails Mr. Gore by 43 points in California and by 21 points in New York.

Mr. Bradley ignoring New York and California spent six vital days in Washington state, even though no delegates were at stake. Mr. Bradley sought a symbolic win in Washington's "beauty contest" before next week's Super Tuesday balloting in 15 states.

The strategy failed. Mr. Gore won 68 percent of the vote to 31 percent for the former New York Knicks basketball star.

"This is really a sweet, sweet victory," Mr. Gore told Washington state supporters in a conference call. "We climbed another mountain tonight."

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said victories in "Iowa and New Hampshire answered the fundamental questions" about the vice president's candidacy.

"We're focused on winning as many delegates as possible as quickly as possible."

Mr. Bradley's campaign appeared to collapse after his narrow loss to Mr. Gore in New Hampshire. Mr. McCain, who won in New Hampshire by 19 points, gained the bulk of the media attention.

Mr. Bradley began running an ad in California yesterday that says "only Bill Bradley" has steadfastly fought for Democrats.

"Only Bill Bradley has always fought for gun control and against the NRA. And only Bill Bradley has consistently supported a woman's right to choose," a narrator says.

"There is a difference. On Tuesday, vote for the only candidate who has always been there for us."

Mr. Hauser said Mr. Bradley's weekend schedule will focus on the Northeast, including possible trips to Maine and Rhode Island.

A top Bradley aide said his campaign is debating where to deploy aides until the March 14 Southern primaries.

Staff writer Bill Sammon contributed from Los Angeles to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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