Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley yesterday renewed his call for candidates to reject "soft money" for their campaigns and said that, if president, he would veto the current Republican tax cut proposals.

The former senator from New Jersey, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," said he was "shocked" by sharp criticism from the Gore campaign over his proposal that all presidential candidates agree to ban the use of unregulated campaign contributions -- so-called soft money -- in the next presidential election.

There are strict federal regulations on the amount of money that individuals can contribute to directly support a candidate in primary and general elections. But political parties also raise funds to use for more general party activities. That unregulated, or "soft," money can often be used in ways barely distinguishable from directly supporting a campaign.

"I would hope that they would accept the challenge not to accept soft money," he said. Responding to a comment by Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho that Bradley would handicap Democratic candidates who can't keep up with Republican fund-raising drives, Bradley said he wouldn't reject soft money if others continued to take it.

Bradley's success at raising campaign contributions has bolstered the claim of the one-time Rhodes scholar and basketball star to be a viable alternative to Vice President Gore, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Bradley spent Saturday campaigning in New Hampshire, the site of the first presidential primary.

On NBC yesterday, Bradley said he would be cautious in dealing with federal budget surpluses.

He said he would veto the $792 billion Republican-backed tax cut but would not say how big a tax cut he would support. "I'd probably be more in line with the smaller, rather than a larger" tax cut and would rather use budget surpluses to pay down the national debt, keep interest rates low and "deal with those problems in the country that you can only deal with in good economic times," he said.

Bradley sidestepped a question about reforming Medicare to enable the program that provides health coverage for older and disabled Americans to forestall financial collapse and provide better benefits. He said that he would present a proposal for overhauling national health care in the fall and would make Medicare proposals then.

"I don't think anything should be off the table," Bradley said, referring in part to whether wealthier Americans should pay more for Medicare coverage.

Bradley also responded to a question about his change in position on federal support for ethanol, a corn product used as a fuel additive and sold largely by Archer Daniels Midland Co. As a senator, Bradley opposed the ethanol program, calling it "highway robbery" with no environmental, energy security or financial benefits. As a candidate stumping in the farm state of Iowa, where caucuses provide an early test for presidential hopefuls, Bradley has supported the ethanol subsidy program.

"When I was in the Senate, I represented my state, New Jersey. This was not good for New Jersey," Bradley said. "Now I'm running for president. I have to see the whole country."

He said that after talking to "hard-working" Iowa farmers, he changed his mind.

Bradley said he saw "the racial divide" as the nation's biggest problem. He said, "Slavery was our original sin; race remains our unresolved dilemma."