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  Gore, Bradley Tangle at Dinner

By Mike Glover
Associated Press Writer
Saturday, Oct. 9, 1999; 9:25 p.m. EDT

DES MOINES, Iowa –– Al Gore and Bill Bradley tangled over their political loyalties Saturday in a rare showdown of Democratic presidential candidates, with the vice president suggesting his rival abandoned the party in its darkest hours.

"I did not walk away," Gore said as the pair prepared for late-night addresses before Democratic activists. Bradley, a former New Jersey senator, suggested Gore resorted to attacks because he lacked vision.

"To the extent that someone is confident in their own vision of the future, they don't need to resort to the darts," Bradley said. "I think I can talk about the future in a way that's compelling enough."

His spokeswoman, Anita Dunn, was more pointed. "When you're too weak to defend, you must attack," she said, quoting Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Dunn accused Gore of practicing "a tired politics of the past."

The appearance at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner was the candidates' first joint meeting since Gore uprooted his campaign to Tennessee to counter Bradley's surge in polls. Since then, Gore has sought a scrappier, homespun image and he is more directly confronting Bradley.

The two sat in separate sections of a large hall where the fund-raiser was held, but both worked the room and met briefly, shaking hand and exchanging greetings.

"I did not walk away from the fight when (former Speaker) Newt Gingrich took over the Congress. I did not walk away from the fight when Reaganomics was put up for a vote on the floor. I did not walk away from the fight when farmers needed farm credit," Gore said at a news conference, implying that Bradley turned away from Democrats every time.

"I've never turned my back on the Democratic Party," the vice president said.

Bradley left the Senate in 1996, two years after Republicans won control of Congress.

Gore also reminded Iowans that Bradley had voted against popular ethanol subsidies and other farm issues important to the states with the first presidential caucuses.

Asked if he were calling Bradley a quitter, Gore demurred.

"That's not a word I'd use to describe him," he said. "Others have."

Bradley rejected any suggestions of disloyalty.

"I've always been a Democrat since I cast my first vote in 1964," said Bradley, who has suggested that Gore's centrist politics undermine his claim to the Democratic mantle. "I am simply not going to deal with the darts that are being thrown."

While Gore has the backing of much of the party's establishment, especially in Iowa, the race has tightened and gotten new attention. A poll last week showed Bradley within a dozen points of Gore in Iowa.

Gore was taking advantage of his institutional support at every turn as he prepared for Saturday's event. The hall where the two will speak was turned into a sea of Gore campaign signs, drawing a chuckle from Bradley, a former professional basketball star with the New York Knicks.

"It's going to be a little bit like going into Boston Garden in the seventh game," said Bradley. "You never know, you could turn around some of the Boston fans."

While his poll standings have improved, Bradley worked hard to play down expectations for his performance.

"There is no question we are up against entrenched power," said Bradley. "I don't have high expectations. We have to do OK."

The candidates were relishing a competitive race they said will serve the eventual nominee well against the GOP.

"There's a real opportunity for us, whichever one of us emerges from the primary to be stronger because of the competition," Bradley said.

Both candidates walked Democratic precincts before their addresses, adding a grassroots touch to their campaigns.

"Um, who are you?" 7-year-old Robert Buell asked, tapping Gore on the leg.

"I'm Vice President Al Gore," the vice president said with a laugh. "Who are you?"

Bradley said he is introducing himself to Iowans – one at a time. His celebrity is an advantage.

"I always wanted to meet the basketball player," said Bernard Relph, a Des Moines resident who greeted Bradley at his door. "I don't know too much about the politician."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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