Bill Bradley arrived at the news conference at the Best Western Starlite hotel here Friday to the irritating din of an air conditioner.
"You'll probably want to turn that off," he said, smiling wanly while shedding his jacket, "or else you won't be able to hear me."
This could be a subtheme of the former NBA star/senator's campaign. Most days, Bradley campaigns with a personal style so determinedly anti-dynamic that he makes Al Gore look like Charo. The man is mellow, but his message is serious, too serious to be obscured by the bells and whistles that make some campaign events seem as if they were choreographed by the World Wrestling Federation.
Bradley, in Iowa on a four-day swing, is determined to do this his way, even if that means finishing a planned three-minute local news interview--a pretty generous cut by prime-time news standards--in one minute and 10 seconds. Campaign aides later said even Bradley was struck by the shortness of the interview and blamed it on an unprepared news anchor who asked only three questions, including whether it was true that Michael Jordan's endorsement was imminent. As Bob Dole would say, whatever.
This is not to say that Bradley has no message. Far from it. At campaign events here, Bradley has been elaborating on his vision for America, filling in details of his Big Ideas, and generally making the case why Democratic voters should pick him over Vice President Gore in January's Iowa caucus.
Bradley, who spent the first few months of his campaign this year mostly listening, is finally doing a lot of talking, albeit in a quiet monotone. He has laid out his vision for campaign finance reform and declared his intent to unveil near-universal health care. He told voters in suburban Des Moines on Friday night that he would veto the $792 billion Republican tax cut plan.
After irritating many Iowans earlier this year by professing ignorance of farming, he offered specifics on how he would deal with the farm crisis. Bradley said he would work "to get money now" to farmers by extending loans and delaying interest payments. He also elaborated on a novel way for dying family farms to compete with big corporate farms: Create a "family farm" label for an upscale market, kind of like the market for Starbucks coffee, that would sell products at high-end grocers.
"I'm trying to do it in a different way," Bradley told a group of about 40 caucus-going Iowans at the Best Western before the news conference. "And I'm trying to do it with a great respect for the American people and their basic goodness."
Bradley certainly is doing it in a different way than Gore, who earlier this week arrived in Waterloo on Air Force Two, was greeted by a phalanx of local dignitaries and was transported via limo and motorcade to the local convention center to speak to labor activists. While Gore's travel arrangements were standard fare for a vice president, they reinforced the institutional advantages he has over Bradley, who traveled the state with a handful of aides and reporters in a procession of a few white vans.
But Bradley insisted the comparison works to his advantage: "You can go directly to the people and tell them what you believe in and what you plan to do."
Bradley came here Friday to talk about campaign finance reform and spent much of today doing the grip 'n' grin at the Iowa State Fair.
On Friday, he walked into a room at the Best Western, before the news conference, dressed in a gray suit, carrying a half-consumed bottle of Gatorade. Instead of standing, he sat in front of the crowd and talked about the overwhelming need to reform the way politicians raise money. He said as president he would seek to ban unregulated soft money contributions, provide candidates with free television air time and push a $900 million plan for public financing of campaigns.
When a woman asked what she could do to help push for campaign finance reform, Bradley said vote for him. "You need a president who's going to put it right up at the top of the agenda in the top two or three things."
Many of the caucus-goers who came to recent Bradley events said they liked his style.
"He came across as real mellow, a lot more laid back than most public officials that I've seen," said Charles Lozio, a 41-year-old doctor who met Bradley on Friday. Asked if the mellow was good, he said: "Considering where we are today, I'm fine with that. I don't necessarily want that Clinton magic."
At the state fair, Chuck Mordan, a 68-year-old retired teacher, said he was leaning toward voting for Bradley. "Gore has the stigma of his buddy [President Clinton] whether he likes it or not."
Could Bradley be purposefully trying to seem as bland as possible to appeal to voters weary of Clinton's brand of smooth politics? Bradley, in an interview, laughed at the notion: "I assure you, I'm not suppressing my glitziness."
Oh, one other thing, regarding Jordan. He liked Bradley and has said so publicly. He's contributed $1,000 to his campaign. But Bradley has no idea whether Jordan will endorse him or anyone else.