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Jewish World Review March 16, 2000 /9 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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Gore owes Bradley --- big time! -- The polls show it, and most analysts feel they know it: Al Gore seems to have been enhanced by his recent primary battle, a battle that could have easily torn him down.

After all, Gore's opponent, Bill Bradley, spent months publicizing all Gore's failings, past, present and future. Bradley raised the Buddhist temple monk fund-raising scandal and Gore's flip-flops on issues, and he made sharp attacks on Gore's character.

The result? Gore not only won every primary, but in so doing he became a sharper, more focussed, more user-friendly candidate; a man that crowds actually seem to like.

Nobody is writing today that Gore is "uncomfortable in his own skin." Today, people are writing that if George Bush doesn't watch out, Gore could skin him alive.

"Look what happened at the end of the (primary) process," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane. "Gore is the only candidate whose favorables went up; his positives went up. That is amazing given the fact you've just gone through a primary. Most primaries bring people down, but as the days grew longer, Gore got stronger."

But the days will grow shorter again before Election Day, I reminded Lehane.

"That's right," he replied. "But as the days grow colder, Gore will grow bolder."

Gore can also count on the support of a unified party. Bill Bradley's insurgent campaign made no inroads into core Democratic voters, while John McCain's campaign revealed a schism in the Republican Party between the religious right and other Republicans who fears its influence.

Both campaigns also have to go after those McCain voters who are disaffected from politics as usual. "Going into the presidential primaries, there was the feeling that people were contented and they were not going to send any signals," said Stu Rothenberg, independent analyst and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report. "But now McCain and Bradley have shown us that if you scratch the surface of the contentment, you find a populace that still doesn't trust politicians and are cynical about the nature of politics."

Trust is going to be a large huge issue in the general election, but Republicans have broken their lances before on the issue when trying to bring down Bill Clinton.

Will Gore have the same Teflon shield as the president, however? The Bush campaign believes not.

"Al Gore is very vulnerable on the issue of integrity and trust," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Bradley started pursuing that line, but never fully carried it out."

George Bush, Fleischer says, does not intend to make that mistake. "Above and beyond all, voters will be looking for honesty and integrity, for being yourself, for not being the star of 'Love Story' or the inventor of the Internet," Fleischer says. "After eight years of Bill Clinton, Americans are hungry for somebody who won't let them down, for somebody who will level with them and tell them the truth."

But didn't Gore gain anything from the primaries? I asked Fleischer. "He is certainly better dressed," Fleischer replied.

The Gore campaign does not intend to pin its hopes on sartorial splendor alone. It will wage a positive campaign stressing good economic times and an America at peace, while at the same time waging a negative campaign against Bush.

In political terms, both campaigns are just beginning the "cartoon" phase of the campaign, each trying to paint simple, powerful, caricatures of the other.

Just as the Clinton/Gore campaign of 1996 defined Bob Dole as doddering and uncaring, so it will try to define Bush as risky and unready to be president.

"Bush offers us the economics of the Stone Ages," Lehane said. "He offers a reckless tax scheme with tax cuts for the wealthy, which will only lead higher debt, high unemployment, high interest rates and a destabilizing of Social Security."

Some Democrats believe, in fact, that the biggest problem that Gore faces is overconfidence.

"Bradley was a godsend, because it forced Gore to evaluate his campaign style and change it," said Democratic consultant David Axelrod. "But if anyone on the Democratic side starts viewing Gore as a front-runner and starts to behave that way, that will be a tremendous mistake. Gore is enormously better off than he was six months ago, but at every juncture in this campaign the conventional wisdom has been wrong. So why would it be right now?"

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