As Bill Bradley renewed his complaint today that the presidential caucuses here "reward entrenched power," Vice President Gore pounced on his Democratic rival, saying Bradley did a "disservice" to the people of Iowa who will trek to school gyms, churches and community centers across the state to vote on Monday.
"After running more 30-second television and radio commercials than anyone ever has in the history of the Democratic caucuses, he has evidently developed a new view of the Iowa caucuses," Gore bellowed from the stage of a school gym here. "Just the day before yesterday, he said Iowa rewards entrenched power. Well let me tell you, fighting for people is what the Iowa caucuses are all about."
In an unusually rapid response, Bradley press secretary Eric Hauser read reporters 10 Gore remarks from his 1988 presidential campaign in which he discounted the importance of the Iowa caucus as "an arcane procedure that produces crazy results" and "a ridiculous test."
Earlier, Bradley said about the old Gore comments, "I don't feel that way about the Iowa caucuses. . . . Beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire is the right place for a presidential campaign to begin, because you have to encounter people in small meetings."
Anticipating the criticism, Gore made an oblique reference to the self-inflicted wounds of 1988. "You know, I learned my lesson about the Iowa caucuses a long time ago. You gotta come here and campaign here, you gotta work hard here," he said.
Yet a fact sheet distributed by the Gore campaign indicates that Bradley had spent 63 days in Iowa as of the first week in January, compared with Gore's 38. The vice president, who has less cash in the bank than his opponent, has spent about $1.1 million on commercials in Iowa while Bradley has invested $1.6 million. Gore, however, has had more paid staffers in the state for many more months.
Scrambling to counter polls suggesting he has made little progress among potential voters here, Bradley released a fact sheet showing that 1,000 precinct leaders have been recruited, more than 150,000 voters have been contacted by telephone and 200 postcards a day are coming in from Iowans who want to help him organize.
"We knew all along that Iowa is a state that rewards entrenched power, and that's what we're dealing with," Bradley said today. Gore "has the support of the president of the United States, who's loyal to him because he was loyal to the president."
Bradley also acknowledged that Gore's tough ads had convinced some Iowans that a Bradley presidency could endanger Medicare. "I think that most voters don't understand. There were two negative ads run and I think that to a certain extent, voters might've been swayed by that," he said after addressing members of AARP in West Des Moines. "But we're countering that now, and I think that we're making up our distance very quickly."
Bradley added that he has "put no negative ads on television, and I don't intend to." Two Gore commercials claim that the vice president is the only candidate who protects Medicare and Medicaid, an indirect swipe at Bradley's health plan.
With four days until the caucuses, both Democrats are working to rev up their troops. Bradley, who tonight confirmed that he has had four more episodes of atrial fibrillation since one that benched him for a day last month, has turned to Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell to appear in ads on his behalf. "Now I know a lot of you want to see Bill in the White House, just like I do, but I also know a lot of you aren't planning to vote," Russell says in a TV spot. "Well, it's not going to happen without you."
Bradley also won the endorsement today of Betty Friedan, a founder of the National Organization for Women.
Gore, who flew here after meeting with gay leaders at his home in Washington, closed with a plea for votes. "This fight is gonna take place right here in Iowa--99 hours and 7 minutes from now," he said. "That's the hour and the minute when the Iowa caucuses begin. I need your help."
Allen reported from West Des Moines.