Bradley Starts Run for White House
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 5, 1998; Page A1
NEWARK, Dec. 4Rejuvenated by two years away from Washington and elective politics, former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley signaled his return to the political arena today, announcing the formation of a presidential exploratory committee that he said is virtually certain to lead soon to a full-fledged campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2000.
Bradley's declaration marked the beginning of what could become a strong field of Democratic candidates stepping up to challenge Vice President Gore. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who ran unsuccessfully in 1992, will declare his intentions on Dec. 13. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is actively considering a campaign. House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), who ran in 1988, will decide early next year.
Gore enjoys enormous institutional advantages as a sitting vice president, both in terms of fund-raising and the support of key Democratic constituencies. But he now faces the prospect of a bruising and at times contentious debate over the ideas that will shape the party after President Clinton and about the person best equipped to take the party forward after years of Clintonism.
Bradley quit the Senate in 1997 after three terms in office, declaring that "politics is broken." At the time, he chastised both political parties and the culture of politics in the 1990s that he said had lost sight of big issues and the real concerns of the American people. He has repeatedly criticized a system that has been tainted by the corrosive influence of big money.
Bradley has considered running for president at other times in his political career, only to pull back. This time, declaring "I'm at the top of my game," he said he was ready to make the grueling and costly race for the nomination.
Standing in a community center gymnasium that evoked his days as a professional basketball player, the former Rhodes Scholar said he was ready to take the first significant step toward a likely candidacy to "help unleash the enormous potential of the American people" and deal with "an agenda of obligations." These include persistent poverty among children, the absence of health insurance for millions of Americans and the burdens on today's families.
Beyond that, Bradley offered few indications of the kind of campaign he hopes to run. He ducked a question of whether he will seek to run as a Washington outsider and made virtually no reference to the issue of money in politics that often has animated him in the past.
Nor was he prepared to differentiate his candidacy from Gore's. "This is not about Vice President Gore and me," he said. "It is about telling the country what I believe, going out and talking to people as I've done for 30 years. If they believe what I believe, then we have a chance. This will not be a campaign related to the past, it will be a campaign related to the future."
The response of Gore's advisers to Bradley's announcement was low-key. "Today's announcement is not surprising," said Chris Lehane, the vice president's spokesman. "Certainly we are expecting other announcements in the coming weeks. The vice president and Sen. Bradley know one another well from their days in the Senate, and the vice president respects Sen. Bradley."
A Gore adviser said Bradley had alerted the vice president to his decision in a "courteous and friendly" telephone call this morning.
At his midday news conference, Bradley, 55, sought to offer a quieter, more modest style of presidential leadership. "I believe in the kind of leadership that doesn't stand in the spotlight," he said, "the kind of leadership that calls attention to millions of American whose actions shine every day."
He also said he would use a presidential candidacy to focus attention on what he called "an agenda of obligations we have to one another." He ticked off a few of the problems he sees that are preventing the country from reaching its full potential.
"The fact that there are too many children in America who are poor," he said. "The fact that millions of Americans don't have any health insurance, the fact that there are millions of parents in this country who are working two, three, four jobs and don't have enough time with their kids to establish a set of values they'd like to see their children have."
Asked whether he believes the Clinton administration has neglected those issues, he replied, "I think the issue really is not looking backwards, but who can best complete that agenda for the country."
Bradley compared the establishment of the committee to basketball training camp. "I've never gone to training camp without expecting I would be playing in the regular season," he said.
Bradley said he established the exploratory committee to meet the letter and spirit of campaign finance laws. He said he would use the committee to help build a campaign team and develop the issues and themes for his expected candidacy.
Bradley is not the first Democrat to move formally toward a candidacy. Minnesota Sen. Paul D. Wellstone already has formed a presidential exploratory committee and appears likely to become a candidate who will run as an old-fashioned liberal. The Rev. Jesse Jackson also has expressed interest in running for the presidency for a third time, although how serious he is remains unclear.
On the Republican side, aides to Missouri Sen. John D. Ashcroft said he would declare his intentions about running for the GOP nomination on Jan. 5.
Bradley has spent the past two years teaching at Stanford and Notre Dame universities, speaking and writing. He did a stint with CBS News and recently published a new book called "Values of the Game," which is now a best-seller.
He was also asked about whether he lags behind Gore and some of the other potential Democratic candidates in building support in the important early states of New Hampshire and Iowa. The Missouri native recalled that he had first gone to Iowa as an 11-year-old for a baseball tournament. But he said he had been tagged out while standing just off first base, the victim of a hidden ball trick.
"Ever since then I have wanted to go back to Iowa and win one," he said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company