Finally adding fiery touches to his months-old stump speech, Bill Bradley moved beyond his highfalutin rhetoric and random strafing today and offered voters a clear reason to fire Vice President Gore.
Bradley told voters in this farming town that being a good president "means taking everybody to higher economic ground. . . . It's about time all of us got on the prosperity train."
The bullish economy, while making it possible for Bradley to propose ambitious health care and child welfare programs, has inhibited his candidacy because many voters, polls show, feel that Gore is best equipped to continue the boom that has marked President Clinton's tenure. So Bradley is promising "a piece of the prosperity" to the less fortunate--a powerful pitch in Iowa, where sagging crop and cattle prices have hurt many communities like Maquoketa, population 6,200.
To cap a day that his staff felt had been one of the campaign's best, a celebration broke out at Bradley's hotel in Cedar Rapids tonight as aides passed around faxed copies of a Des Moines Register Sunday editorial endorsing their man, citing his "compelling vision and fundamental decency."
Earlier today, Bradley had a looser style to go with his newly muscular speech, inviting local organizers to "stand up and take a bow," and rushing into the audience to shake hands with a questioner, Don Shields, who said he was Bradley's chairman in the town of Andrew, population 476.
"It's two days to go--you all know more about the caucus than I do," Bradley said. "The polls say we're not in front, but I think we're going to surprise a lot of people."
Eric Hauser, Bradley's press secretary, told reporters on the press bus, "Anybody thinking that this campaign has slowed down at all is totally misreading the environment."
As evidence, Hauser pointed to several recent endorsements, including that of the Iowa Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers.
Bradley's advisers made clear they are already optimistically looking beyond Iowa's results and the New Hampshire primary of Feb. 1 and hiring additional staff for what they call the "national campaign" in the mega-state primaries on March 7 and 14. While Bradley and his team were offering their upbeat assessments, Gore offered a new take on the expectations game being played out in the final days here.
"My expectations are that this country is going to find a way to keep moving forward," Gore said over an oatmeal breakfast at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge. "What are the expectations if Senator Bradley scored a victory?
"He would do exactly what he had said he would do and take as his model for leadership style--he said that the one he admired the most was Ronald Reagan," Gore continued, reminding 400 activists of the rising deficits and unemployment that came in the 1980s. "My expectations, if you support me and entrust me with the presidency . . . would be not to focus on just one issue but to keep on fighting for all of your interests against every challenge that the American people face."
Switching from bus to plane, Gore headed to Cedar Falls to team up with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose support buttresses the Gore team's efforts to reach the most loyal--and generally liberal--Iowa Democrats who tend to show up at the caucuses.
"I want all of you to go to the caucuses Monday night and vote for Al Gore and I'll forgive you for 1980," Kennedy said, poking fun at his own failed presidential run. Then, mocking Bradley's goal of matching his finish in the caucuses, Kennedy roared to a crowd of several hundred at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls: "I remember back in 1980 when I got 31 percent and I don't remember ever giving a victory statement."
The liberal icon credited the Clinton-Gore administration with rescuing the country from the economic doldrums. "Al Gore walked the walk in restoring our economy," Kennedy said. "I want a strong economy. I want Al Gore to be the next president."
Connolly reported from Cedar Falls.
Bradley Plays Defense
Another in a series evaluating the accuracy of political advertising.
Candidate: Bill Bradley
Producer: Crystal Team
Time: 30 seconds
Audio: The radical premise of this campaign is you go out and tell people what you believe and win. That you don't have to take a poll and find out what you want to know and then I tell you what you want to know. That you don't have to go out and try to decide you're going to smash the other guy so that people will vote against him. But that you can go out and give people a positive vision of where you want to take the country and they'll have something to vote for. That's what America wants.
Analysis: In the most defensive commercial he has aired, Bradley is trying to reclaim the mantle of high-minded candidate under harsh attack by Vice President Gore. But Bradley's disdain for candidates who "take a poll" is not matched by his record. The former senator has a full-time pollster and, through November, his campaign had spent more than $170,000 on polling. The Boston Globe says the campaign convened an all-women focus group to test its TV ads. Bradley is right that Gore has been trying to "smash" him, but he has occasionally punched back, most recently by criticizing Gore for raising the Willie Horton issue in 1988. This ad suggests that Bradley is again trying to rise above the charges and countercharges.
-- Howard Kurtz