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Jewish World Review March 2, 2000 /25 Adar I, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter -- LAST WEEK'S Democratic dust-up at Harlem's Apollo Theater probably marked ex-Sen. Bill Bradley's (N.J.) final failed grasp for the presidential nomination.

Bradley, if he had any hope of capturing the Democratic nod, had to score a knockdown sometime - and he had been hoping to make race one of his signature issues.

But Bradley was bested by Vice President Al Gore in the counterpunching at the Apollo. And the strategy Bradley has chosen to employ lately - focusing on Gore's 20-years-ago record as a "conservative" Congressman - isn't causing Gore any noticeable problem.

In fact, every time Bradley threw a punch at Gore, the Veep hit him even harder, faster - and, sometimes, farther below the belt. It made for the most raucous "debate" of the presidential season and the crowd loved it.

Bradley did outmatch Gore by one measure. His promises and pandering to African- American liberals surpassed Gore's.

In fact, with an eye to the general election, Gore was careful to make clear he opposes cash "reparations" and racial quotas and supports the death penalty and President Clinton's "mend it, don't end it" policy on affirmative action.

Bradley proposed to make the Voting Rights Act permanent - implying Southern states can never escape their racist past - and promised that as president he would constantly lecture about "white skin privilege."

Much as Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) was not willing to raise the issue of racial prejudice at Bob Jones University, neither Democrat was willing to tell an African-American audience that saving, investment and self-discipline - not government programs or white guilt - are the key to black advancement.

And while Bush has been criticized for his association with Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson, the Democratic candidates have largely escaped blame - except from the right - for cozying up to the Rev. Al Sharpton, a racial demagogue.

Only twice did non-politically correct reality enter the debate - when Time magazine writer Tamela Edwards and, later, CNN correspondent Jeff Greenfield asked why the Democrats oppose private school vouchers when a majority of black parents favor them to help their children escape bad schools.

Edwards also nailed Gore for sending his own children to private schools - an option his no-vouchers policy would deny to children in the inner cities. Gore told her to leave his kids out of it and defended his policy.

Bradley, whom Gore blasted for formerly favoring voucher experiments, has recanted all such deviations from liberal orthodoxy.

The Apollo event was less a policy debate than it was a verbal slugfest, and Gore surely landed the most blows.

The moment Bradley hit Gore for the Clinton administration's failure to ban racial profiling by the police, Gore alleged that profiling "was practically invented in New Jersey" - and accused Bradley of failing to stop it, though he hardly could.

It went downhill from there. Each time Bradley charged that Gore was once "conservative" on race, tobacco or abortion, Gore accused him of making "personal attack after personal attack" and "dividing us as Democrats."

Then Gore proceeded to a personal attack of his own - charging, for instance, that Bradley had quit Congress and was speaking at a fundraiser when Gore cast a key tie-breaking vote on gun control.

Gore charged that Bradley "questions the character of people who disagree with him" and underrates the judgement of the Congressional Black Caucus and other Democratic groups that have endorsed Gore.

Gore said, "It's pretty clear what's going on, Bill. You're sounding a little desperate because you're trying to build yourself up by tearing everybody else down."

And, picking up on a newspaper report that Bradley favored a special prosecutor to investigate 1996 Clinton-Gore fundraising, Gore fired, "You must be the only Democrat in America who misses Ken Starr." Bradley wasn't rendered speechless, but nearly so.

Answering another of Edwards' apt questions, Bradley was forced to admit he is disappointed about his lackluster support among African-Americans. He trails Gore 46 to 20 percent among blacks, according to a January Zogby poll.

Even though he came within 4 percent of beating Gore in New Hampshire Feb. 1, Bradley has been starved for attention since then by the press's focus on insurgent Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

Bradley badly trails Gore in every major upcoming primary - even in the Northeast, where he formerly led - and in states holding open primaries he is likely to lose independent support to McCain.

Desperate for a win, Bradley dumped all his effort late last week into Washington state's non-binding popularity contest. But barring a miracle or catastrophe, the race is over.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
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09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
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08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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