Bill Bradley offered a somber assessment today of his prospects in the Iowa caucuses, reflecting the fact that polls show he has not cut into Vice President Gore's lead despite a substantial injection of time and resources in the state.
At the same time, Vice President Gore's team kept up the pressure here and began contemplating the possibility of winning not only Iowa but the more competitive New Hampshire primary as well.
"There is a dynamic at work here," said Gore strategist Tad Devine. "The New Hampshire voters, the independent, swing voters, look to the results in Iowa to see who is best positioned to win. We are going toe-to-toe with him. . . . Ultimately, if we win both places, the fact that he has spent as much as he has will inure to our advantage."
Bradley, at a campaign stop here, played down expectations. "I look at the historical performance of insurgents in Iowa, which is Ted Kennedy in 1980. He got 31 percent," Bradley said. "This is a difficult state when you're up against an entrenched power. We are reaching out to as many people as possible. We don't have the apparatus; the apparatus is with the vice president."
A Los Angeles Times survey of Iowa Democrats published today showed Gore maintaining a lead of 23 percentage points, 58 percent to Bradley's 35 percent. In addition, Gore held substantial leads in almost every demographic group, including a huge 64 percent to 29 percent lead among women, 63 percent to 29 percent among union households and 68 percent to 24 percent among voters with a high school education or less.
Asked by reporters if he would continue if he lost Iowa on Jan. 24 and New Hampshire on Feb. 1, Bradley said: "Yes. This is a race where you are trying to win delegates and March 7 is a big day," referring to primaries that day in California, New York and a host of New England and Midwest states. "There is really a separate national campaign and we have the resources to compete in that campaign," he said, after addressing about 600 students and supporters at the Iowa City West High School.
As a sign that Bradley is planning to go the distance, his campaign let it be known that Oregon's two-term Gov. John Kitzhaber is scheduled to announce his endorsement of the former New Jersey senator, joining two other former statewide elected officials, former governor Neil Goldschmidt and former secretary of state Phil Keisling, in the Bradley camp. The Oregon primary is May 15.
During his appearance at West High, Bradley sought to pound home the theme of his campaign: that he is prepared to take risks and propose "bold" initiatives, while Gore is cautious, if not timid, a politician interested only in "nibbling around the edges."
Bradley came to this city, which is dominated by the University of Iowa campus, to build up support in an area where he does best: college towns, with both students and well-educated voters, two of his best constituencies.
As his caravan rolled from Des Moines to Burlington in the southeast corner of the state, Gore stuck to well-tested Democratic themes aimed at motivating loyal followers to attend the caucuses. And at virtually every event, he paid homage to this state's central role in choosing presidential nominees: "This is a chance for Iowa to take the leading role, to make the first choices about our nation's future."
After months of struggling to find a campaign rhythm, the Gore team feels increasingly confident that its attacks on Bradley--and his inability to effectively thwart them--have done sufficient damage.
"When you have won the case, say thank you and sit down," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo said today, drawing an analogy to a courtroom attorney who senses victory.
In particular, Gore strategists believe the vice president has made headway dissecting Bradley's health plan and picking apart his votes in the Senate on issues such as school vouchers, ethanol subsidies and flood relief. "It's working on both offense and defense," said Cuomo, who joined Gore at a rally in Indianola today. "He is performing very well and his comparisons on the Bradley plan have not been responded to by Bradley."
Over the past week, as Gore's prospects appear to have improved here in Iowa and in New Hampshire, he has struck a more conciliatory tone in his public appearances, letting his strategists--with the help of television ads and press releases--level the sharpest attacks against his Democratic opponent.
In fact, Gore has gone out of his way in recent days to not stir the pot. He has offered no new proposals, sharply limited press access and has replaced his free-wheeling question-and-answer sessions with staged pep rallies.
"You continue to make your case but since they are with you, it takes on a different style," Cuomo said.
Connolly reported from Burlington.
CAPTION: Bill Bradley stretches out while participating in conference call with reporters during a visit to the University of Iowa in Iowa City.