The verbal Ping-Pong match between the two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination over their different approaches to health care and retirement benefits continued today. This time Vice President Gore was serving.

"Yesterday, Senator Bradley said that he may be willing to consider radical changes in Social Security such as cutting benefits and raising taxes. A few weeks ago he said we should consider raising the retirement age in Social Security and Medicare but then he ruled it out," Gore told several hundred African American officials at a morning appearance before the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. "Now he says cutting Social Security benefits is reasonable and I predict his retraction will not be far behind."

While calling Bradley "a good person, a decent man," Gore added: "Let me sum up by saying this to Senator Bradley: It is wrong to destroy Medicaid; it's wrong to ignore Medicare and it is wrong to cut Social Security benefits and play games with nursing homes and our seniors' retirement."

Gore, who has often referred to himself as a "raging moderate," appealed to the more liberal interests of the black lawmakers by arguing Bradley's expensive health care overhaul would deplete the federal surplus and the good economic times the Clinton-Gore administration has brought, and that he said, have particularly benefited black Americans.

"If you spend the surplus and put us right back into deficits again," he said, "then those of us who fight for progressive priorities once again get painted into a corner where everybody says, "Okay, there's no money to do something new."

Gore's spirited address was well received as audience members clapped and laughed through much of it.

"I'm with the vice president, not because he's vice president but, because of what he's done as vice president," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) as he introduced Gore to the crowd at the downtown Hyatt. "He has been a true friend to all of us."

It didn't take long for Bradley to respond. By afternoon his campaign had issued a statement denouncing Gore for "inaccurately charging that Bradley proposed raising the eligibility age for Social Security at a forum held last night in New Hampshire."

"The vice president certainly knows the difference between describing the choices that face us on Social Security and advocating a particular course of action," Bradley said.