Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, arguing that "prosperity that fails to bolster families is hollow and unsustainable," yesterday outlined a series of proposals designed to ease the burden on working families.
Bradley spoke about work and families in New Hampshire as Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole issued a tough anti-drug message on the U.S.-Mexican border in California. She attacked President Clinton as weak on drugs--"he lacks the moral authority to send a message that drugs aren't cool"--and she promised to crack down on smuggling, trafficking and use of all illegal drugs, including marijuana.
In New York, Vice President Gore appeared with prominent environmentalists to collect their endorsements. He took the chance to accuse Texas Gov. George W. Bush of "carrying water--dirty water--for the special interests" and polluters.
Bradley's speech was his latest effort to detail the policies underpinning what he has called a campaign of big ideas. Last week in Los Angeles, he unveiled a $65 billion proposal that he said would dramatically reduce the number of Americans without health insurance, estimated at roughly 45 million people. In contrast to that speech, yesterday's was far more modest, particularly in dollar terms--and some of his ideas echoed proposals supported by Clinton and Gore. Gore on Tuesday dealt with the same subject in a New York speech.
But the former New Jersey senator, who spoke at a local high school in southern New Hampshire, said that while this program is "not about big government," it is still about "big ideas and the courage to commit ourselves to finding a common-sense balance between family and work in America."
As Bradley concluded a two-day campaign swing through the nation's first primary state, two new polls charted his continuing progress toward overtaking Gore there.
A poll by Franklin Pierce College for the television station WNDS showed Bradley forging ahead of Gore in New Hampshire, 42 percent to 35 percent. That poll also showed that Bradley now runs ahead of Bush (51 to 36 percent), while Bush leads Gore (45 to 41 percent)--bolstering Bradley's claim that he would be a stronger nominee in 2000 than Gore.
A second New Hampshire poll released yesterday by the Boston Herald and WCVB-TV showed Bradley at 39 percent and Gore at 37 percent among likely Democratic voters, a statistical tie. The same poll last June showed Gore with a 12-point lead over Bradley.
Bradley played down the significance of the new findings. "This is a long campaign," he told reporters. "Obviously, I'd rather be ahead than behind."
In his speech, Bradley described American families as harried and stressed, torn by the demands of employers forced to compete in a global marketplace and by obligations to children and aging parents. "Our nation has been good at building our economic infrastructure," he said. "But for far too long, we have neglected our social infrastructure. We are economically healthy. But are we socially healthy? Are we spiritually healthy?"
Bradley's plan includes four specific proposals.
The first calls for the federal government to provide $2 billion annually in matching grants to the states to replace the "catch-as-catch-can hodgepodge of underfunded, uncoordinated efforts" to provide quality child care with a more comprehensive system. The idea is modeled after a North Carolina program.
His second proposal would tap the growing ranks of retirees to provide more after-school mentoring programs for young people. Bradley said he would offer tax-free stipends to retirees who agree to volunteer a prescribed number of hours each week working with young people in schools, churches and nonprofit organizations.
Bradley's third proposal aims at providing young people the skills to obtain good jobs and giving older workers opportunities for retraining as new skills are required by the economy. To do this, he said he would establish "Life-Long Learning Communities" through the nation's community colleges, modeled after a successful program in Texas. He estimated the cost at $400 million annually.
Finally, Bradley, like Gore, called for expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act by extending its requirements to businesses with at least 25 workers, rather than the current 50-employee cutoff. Bradley also said he would require employers to provide as much as 24 hours of unpaid leave annually to enable workers to attend parent-teacher conferences or take a family member to the doctor.
Dole delivered her speech on drugs about 30 feet from the fence dividing California from Mexico, and she chided the country on the other side of the fence. "Mexico, long a close friend and important neighbor, needs to extradite drug lords to the United States and make a concerted effort to reduce the flood of methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and crack across the border," she said.
Citing studies indicating that the rate of drug use among children is rising after a period of decline, Dole charged that the Clinton administration has given up in the war on drugs. She stressed diplomatic efforts to cut off the flow of drugs from abroad and education efforts to cut the demand at home.
"It is time we throw down the gauntlet and cease timid negotiations with foreign governments that cannot or will not put a stop to the production or smuggling of drugs," Dole said.
The speech was the third of four speeches planned by Dole to lay the foundation of her campaign. Earlier speeches were on education and foreign policy; the fourth speech will deal with taxes.
Dole is struggling to maintain her hold on second place in GOP polls and to fend off Arizona Sen. John McCain. In the Franklin Pierce College poll, McCain surged past Dole in New Hampshire, with 23 percent to her 8 percent.
Yesterday, McCain and Steve Forbes denied a report in the Boston Globe that their supporters have been spreading word that Dole may drop out of the race. "I would never do such a thing, nor would anyone who works for me," McCain said, and he promised to fire anyone who does. Forbes called the accusation "utterly preposterous."
Gore got a boost from New York environmentalists--led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Larry Rockefeller--who gave him $100,000 and their endorsements. They felt it was time, Kennedy said, because a relatively small but vocal group of greens, Friends of the Earth, had surprised Gore recently by throwing its support to Bradley.
"We needed to do something to make sure people understand the environmental community is solidly behind Al Gore," he said. "Sometimes your friends have to stand up when momentum is going against you."
Kennedy and Rockefeller joined Gore in attacking Bush. "I'm going to put party labels aside and put our kids' future first and the Earth's future [and] team up with New Yorkers and other Americans who recognize an environmental champion when they see one," said Rockefeller, a Republican who said he is bitterly disappointed with Bush's record.
Balz reported from New Hampshire, Von Drehle from Washington. Staff writer Ceci Connolly in New York contributed to this report.