Bill Bradley launched a corrective campaign strategy here today after his drubbing in the Iowa caucuses, while Vice President Gore didn't even wait for breakfast to embark on what had the feel of a victory lap in this snow-covered state.
Although Gore's activities were designed mainly for the cameras, the vice president had a clear message: Thanks to the Clinton-Gore team, the nation's economy is booming. Meanwhile, Bradley, who lost by 28 percentage points in Monday's caucuses, took a new tack in his difficult argument that the country can do even better economically.
With six days to go before the primary here, polls show the race neck and neck, and Bradley and Gore face a potentially crucial televised debate Wednesday night in Manchester.
Bradley now plans to aggressively engage Gore, while trying not to undermine his own lofty image. His aides conceded that the right balance between positive and negative messages has eluded Bradley, who has lurched from taking Gore's assaults with little or no response to launching sporadic attacks that seemed misplaced in his otherwise high-minded campaign. "The challenge is to emphasize a new passion and focus, without becoming a different candidate," press secretary Eric Hauser said.
As part of Bradley's fresh pitch, he told a gym full of high school students that he can empathize with working parents because when his wife, Ernestine, was teaching in New Jersey, he was responsible for their daughter, who lived with him in Washington. "I had to juggle the schedules, fix the breakfast," Bradley said, in the first new window into his autobiography in months. "I understand what it is to be a working parent who has a child and trying to figure out how to keep everything together. And these are the people that need help."
In the speech at Alvirne High School here, Bradley never mentioned Gore's name, but he included plenty of implicit criticism of the current administration as he promised "a new politics," adding, "I believe the central question for this campaign is trust--trust in the leader."
In a time-honored campaign practice, Bradley has begun using surrogates for more direct attacks. Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, referring to the outcome in Iowa, told the students that he was "sad to report to you that one of the reasons was campaign advertising that Vice President Gore ran," which Kerrey said distorted Bradley's voting record.
Bradley has long said that he would be "a good steward of the good economy," but today he went a step further. He took some credit for the current prosperity, pointing to his passion for economic issues when he was a senator from New Jersey. He said he "saw a little ahead" of others in Washington on trade, tax and Third World debt issues.
Bradley's campaign sees New Hampshire as much friendlier territory than Iowa. On his charter flight early today from Des Moines to Manchester, N.H., Bradley clowned around as he sliced up a macadamia cake. He stayed awake until his 3:15 a.m. landing, when he was greeted by a band and a cheering crowd, including teenagers with a "B" painted on their faces. A press kit was handed out with a cover page declaring, "Welcome to New Hampshire . . . It's a Whole New Ballgame!"
Bradley, who many analysts say was hurt by his performance in a debate in Iowa, ended his campaigning early to prepare for his debate with the vice president.
Gore, on the other hand, kept a full schedule and braved a fierce New Hampshire snowstorm to deliver coffee and doughnuts to road crews and surprise college students at a political rally sponsored by MTV.
"I got one hour of poor-quality sleep--not real sleep," he said during an impromptu stop at a Dunkin Donuts in Manchester. "I've got a lot of adrenaline from the victory last night."
In addition to patrons of the doughnut shop, Gore was greeted by Buddhist monk impersonators. Wearing bald heads, the pair from Boston held signs that read, "Al Gore Finance Committee," a reference to the controversy surrounding Gore's appearance at a 1996 political event at a Buddhist temple in California.
While making his purchases, Gore was asked for his reaction to GOP candidate George W. Bush's comments that the Supreme Court had overreached its authority in Roe v. Wade. Gore said the Texas governor is stridently antiabortion. "Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell both vouched for his private assurances on this issue, so it shouldn't be surprising," Gore told reporters.
There was little actual campaigning today. After his doughnut run, Gore stopped by the Manchester city garage to greet workers and pose atop an orange snowplow. As Gore poured coffee from a "Box O' Joe," garbage collector Eric Marion asked why the vice president had come to their workplace. "I want you to vote for me," Gore replied. "And I wanted to bring you some coffee and doughnuts 'cause you're working really hard."
At a morning rally at West High School in Manchester, Gore made his mission clear: "I understand very clearly that New Hampshire doesn't take its cue or lead from anywhere else," he said in an uncharacteristically quick 10-minute speech. "You make your own decisions, and I'm asking you for your votes and your support."
The real campaign work took place behind the scenes as Gore's top strategists raced to cut a 30-minute commercial tentatively planned to run here Saturday. A Washington-based film crew showed up at the high school rally, and Gore advisers said they expected to weave in footage of earlier campaigns, his open meetings here last fall and the vice president speaking into the camera.
"In 30 minutes you can talk about a lot of different things," said media strategist Carter Eskew, who estimated a half-hour on WMUR-TV would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.
As part of its shift to target Bradley here on economic themes, the Gore camp also plans a new 30-second ad touting the achievements of the Clinton administration. At the high school rally, Gore ridiculed Bradley for raising the question of whether Americans are "better off today than you were seven years ago."
Connolly reported from Manchester.
CAPTION: Bill Bradley speaks to students at Alvirne High School in Hudson, N.H. The former senator is trying to rebound from his poor showing in Monday's Iowa caucuses.