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Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2000 /28 Shevat, 5760

Roger Simon

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Battle of the babies --- or why Gore needs Bradley -- MANCHESTER, NH -- A wise person once said that in any prolonged fight the two side begin to resemble one another. And so we now see Bill Bradley and Al Gore trading insults, accusations and just plain trash talk.

Any fair person would have to conclude that Gore started it. He said Bradley would hurt African-Americans and Latinos with his health-care proposal.

Bradley then slashed back by saying Gore was the person who added Willie Horton to the political lexicon and should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. By the end of the New Hampshire primary, there was a flurry of accusations between the two over which had become a virgin first when it came to abortion -- in other words, which was more "pure" in his support for a woman's right to choose.

There is, of course, no difference between the two on abortion or much else, but they now dislike each other on a personal level and so the fighting will probably continue.

This seems to have depressed the Bradley campaign, but not the Gore campaign.

The Gore campaign has so much confidence in the vice president's ultimate victory in the primaries that they are once again talking about their "real" opponent.

"By the middle of February, Gore will be beating Bush in the national polls," a member of Gore's inner circle told me. "At the latest, by the end of February.

Gore has successfully redefined himself. Late last year, he took off the blue suits and put on body-hugging earth-tone knit shirts. He developed a high-energy campaign style. And he managed the neatest trick in politics: turning a negative into a positive. Al Gore was a campaigner most comfortable as a slasher, an attacker, a fighter? Fine. Then he would tell the American people that he was fighting for them. With his right eyebrow cocked -- think it's easy to cock just one eyebrow? Go ahead and try it -- he now tells voters: "I've just begun to fight!"

At the same time he was redefining himself, he was also busy defining his opponent. Just as the Clinton/Gore campaign defined Bob Dole as the Ebenezer Scrooge of 1996, it is managing to define Bill Bradley as the Adlai Stevenson of 2000.

"It is a fighter vs. a professor," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane. "A pugilist vs. a philosopher king. A scrapper vs. a scholar."

Bill Bradley is depending on sincerity, authenticity and earnestness to gain victory -- which may be why he often looks so sad.

"It's a long season," Bradley said. "I've been knocked on the hardwood before."

And while Gore wants to keep him there, he doesn't want Bradley to drop out too early. "Bradley gets Gore attention as a campaigner, and the more attention Gore gets the higher he is in the polls versus Bush," a Gore adviser said. "What we don't want is the Democratic race over too soon and Gore sitting back in the vice president's office with nobody hearing from him."

The Gore campaign believes Bush will be the eventual Republican nominee and worries about all the cash Bush will still have on hand at the end of his primary season. Bush spokesperson Karen Hughes confirms that Bush is contemplating a world tour as soon as he has secured the nomination, a tour on which he may take along such traveling companions as Colin Powell and ex-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

And while such a tour is sure to garner worldwide headlines, the Gore campaign is hoping the media will make it a disaster. "A trip like that would just show how little he knows," a Gore aide sniffs. "The first time Bush goes to Russia or China, somebody is going to yell out, 'Who is Jiang Zemin?'"

Gore is traveling across the country to not only eat into Bradley's support in states that may be vital to Bradley on March 7, such as New York and Ohio, but to put California solidly in the Gore column.

Gore is following his game plan, one that includes shaking every hand after nearly every speech, which is a page directly out of Bill Clinton's playbook.

And while Gore constantly has to point out how "disappointed" he was with Clinton's behavior during the Dark Ages known as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Gore has studied Clinton's campaign style for years. Though he lacks Clinton's "eye-lock" and the ability to make each voter believe the two of them are the only people on the planet, Gore has come a long way on high energy and deep knowledge of a staggering array of issues from foreign policy to dentistry.

"People want an activist, energetic, fighting president!" he tells crowd after crowd. "I want to fight for you. So stand for me! God bless you!" "Change is not a negative in politics," a Gore adviser said. "His critics will always ask, 'Who is the real Al Gore?' But Gore adapted to what was needed. His desire to improve himself should not be criticized."

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