Aides to Bill Bradley and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) are planning an unprecedented cross-party event to draw attention to campaign finance reform, possibly culminating in a reenactment of the 1995 handshake between President Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich pledging to pursue the issue.
A joint appearance by the two presidential candidates is still in the talking stage but would be held before the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 1, officials of both campaigns said yesterday.
Little has been determined about the event except that it will not be a fund-raiser.
"We could put the thousand-dollar donors down front," one campaign aide joked.
The event may be held in Claremont, N.H., where Clinton and Gingrich (R-Ga.) debated before a senior citizens' picnic eight months before the state's 1996 primary. Clinton proposed creating a bipartisan commission to study federal limits on lobbying and financing campaigns. Gingrich suggested they shake on it, and they did.
Nothing ever came of the pledge, and one problem with recreating that moment would be Bradley's use of the handshake as a symbol of political hypocrisy. In a speech last month outlining his plan to reduce money in politics, the former New Jersey senator ridiculed the gesture.
"Behind every public handshake, like the one in Claremont on this issue, there's always been a secret handshake," Bradley said. "That tacit, secret handshake signals an agreement among politicians not to upset a system they use to their advantage."
At the joint event, Bradley and McCain would highlight their promise to shun unregulated party money if they became the nominees. In a speech at the National Press Club in July, Bradley said: "If I'm the nominee of the Democratic Party, the first thing I'll do is invite the Republican nominee to join me in a compact. We will direct our parties not to raise or spend soft money in the general election."
McCain's campaign said he already had made a similar promise.
The possibility of a Bradley-McCain event was first reported yesterday by George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."
Over the weekend, McCain's campaign made three fat binders of health records available to reporters, and the records showed he was in good physical and mental health. The Associated Press reported that the documents were released in part to counter what McCain aides had called a "whisper campaign" engineered by Republican rivals challenging McCain's mental health.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," McCain said the release of the records "may have the effect of allaying any concerns that people might have, but I'd planned on releasing my medical records from the beginning--I thought it was just something that presidential candidates do."
McCain called the records "about 1,500 pages of an orthopedic surgeon's nightmare or dream, depending on how you view it."
"I don't know if there's any whispering campaign," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. I think the thing is that we need to move forward, and I hope that this will at least have that beneficial effect."
Asked whether he thought the other candidates should release their medical records, McCain said, "No, I think that's up to them."
Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes said on "This Week" that he would release health and tax information before the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses.