Bradley Kicks Off Campaign in N.H.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 1999; Page A4
KEENE, N.H., Jan. 25 – From the gutters piled high with snow and ice to the voters unsurprised to stumble upon a presidential candidate at their local bagel shop, former senator Bill Bradley's first day on the presidential campaign trail today had much in common with many other maiden campaign voyages into this first-in-the-nation primary state.
But Bradley, running a distant second in what is now a two-man race with Vice President Gore, worked hard to signal to New Hampshire voters that his is a candidacy unlike any they've seen. He didn't even refer to it as a campaign. Rather, he kept calling it a "journey."
It is a journey he is making, for now, mostly without traditional Democratic activists, who are mostly behind Gore, and without contributions from political action committees – to show his commitment to campaign finance reform. When a reporter asked skeptically at a news conference in Manchester how he could possibly raise the $20 million he needs to make the race, given that Gore has locked up most traditional Democratic donors, Bradley laughed at this reflection of conventional political wisdom.
"That's a view of politics from the wrong end of the telescope," he said. "There are a lot of people in America – even in New Hampshire – who haven't been active. . . . The idea is to convince them that what you're doing is a little different and good for the country and that they should go along for the journey and be part of it."
Bradley made no pronouncements on where he stands on raging issues – he said he is "withholding judgment," for example, on President Clinton's "extremely complex" Social Security proposal – and instead laid out his commitment to racial unity, economic security for families and children, campaign finance reform and a redefined American role in the world. As the Senate impeachment hearings droned from every car radio, he kept saying: "I'm here to talk about the future. Hopefully that will soon be the past."
Asked repeatedly by reporters to draw distinctions between himself and Gore, he insisted that his campaign is not about Gore, but about charting America's way into the future, something Gore also has said. The only distinction Bradley did draw – and he drew it repeatedly – was that he has lived most of his life outside Washington and politics, including 18 years as a New York Knick, while Gore was raised in Washington and has spent virtually all of his career there.
Kathy Sullivan, a Manchester attorney and the incoming Democratic state party chairman, said she believes Bradley is right that there is opportunity to sway Democrats here. "It's true the vice president has the overwhelming majority of the people who have been hard-core party activists in every election," she said. "But if you take it out a couple of circles further to people who are committed Democrats but not activists, there's an opening there."
Indeed, Bradley drew dozens of supporters in his four stops today who said they rarely or never had worked in a presidential primary campaign but were excited about working for him. Some said they had been interested in Bradley since his days as a star forward for the Knicks. Others said they had been hoping he would run for president since reading one of his books, or hearing him on a television program, or catching a speech he made over the years for New Hampshire Democratic candidates, or being impressed when he walked away from his Senate job, saying "politics is broken."
"I became interested around the time of the Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles when I heard him on MacNeil/Lehrer talking about moral leadership," said Chris Owen, 35, a youth minister in Keene who wasn't sure of his party registration. "It's a message I think is very important. It does get me excited."
"Well, he resigned from the Senate, so maybe there's hope. I'm just looking for somebody who I think could be presidential," said George Hallahan, 52, a registered Independent who said his computer business is so consuming he never before considered working in a campaign.
Some Democratic activists who turned out to meet Bradley at MonadNet, an Internet service provider here, expressed disappointment that he talked mostly about his upbringing in a small town in Missouri rather than laying out positions. "Even Gore, who's awful on the stump, lets us know where he is," said Anna Tilton of the Cheshire County Democratic Committee.
But Paul Hodes, a Concord lawyer who worked for former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt in 1992, said he is content to wait Bradley out. "I'm more concerned with finding a person with principles and values at this stage," he said. Hodes was one of several Democrats who came to see Bradley who said in interviews that they like Gore and his politics but believe he can't lead the party in the aftermath of the White House sex scandal.
In Manchester, Bradley spent as much time with high school dropouts at a program called YouthBuild as he did with 60 doctors, lawyers, Dartmouth students and other potential donors a prominent Manchester attorney gathered in a private meeting.
"I don't know how you can propose to govern a country unless you're sensitive to the kids who were in here today," he said of the teenagers who told him about being kicked out of school or dropping out and then painfully trying to pull their lives together.
Carmen Velasquez, 17, who is seven months pregnant, cried as she told Bradley of trying to escape drugs and violence in Rochester, N.Y. Bradley put his hand on hers and said, "It's okay," encouraging her to go on, thanking her for her courage. In the end, she gave him a YouthBuild sweat shirt; he put it on and put his arm around her. "Here it is!" he declared. "You and me, Carmen!"
This was Bradley's first campaign trip since forming an exploratory presidential campaign committee in December and filing a statement of candidacy this month. He plans to campaign next week in Iowa, scene of the first presidential caucuses.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company