Despite his disappointment in Iowa, Bill Bradley will go into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary under exactly the same banner he hoisted in declaring his presidential candidacy, and indeed the one he used 22 years ago in his first run for the Senate--that he is a "different" politician, independent of special interests, old ideas and party kingmakers.
Vice President Gore has worked to puncture this image from all sides, saying at times that Bradley wasn't so pure toward special interests as a senator and at others that he is too pure to govern.
In fact, Bradley's relationship with special interests during his Senate years was different. Even Republican staffers privy to special-interest deals in the deal-laden Finance Committee say no one made fewer than Bradley. And even the pharmaceutical industry, which Bradley did help at key times, found him a frustratingly hard sell, considering the New Jersey addresses of such giants as Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Hoffman LaRoche, Bristol Myers Squibb, Warner Lambert and American Home Products.
"With Bill Bradley, you really had to make a public interest case," said Gerald Mossinghoff, then head of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association. "You'd leave and say, 'Why should we have to do that if we employ how many tens of thousands of people in New Jersey?' Then you got home and thought about it, and you'd think, 'Well, I guess that was refreshing.' "
Lobbyists for New Jersey's drug, telecommunications, manufacturing and financial companies said Bradley mastered their industries as doggedly as oil-state senators mastered oil and gas--but, unlike the oil bloc, was consistently leery of tilting federal policy to their advantage.
"The CEOs in New Jersey were genuinely proud to have someone of Bradley's caliber as their senator," said Prudential Insurance Co.'s Tom O'Hara, a rare lobbyist now in Bradley's camp. "Sometimes, of course, they wished they had John Breaux," he added, referring to the Louisiana Democrat beloved in the Oil Patch.
In his presidential campaign, Bradley has shown noticeably more flexibility on some special-interest issues. Preparing for the Iowa caucuses, he embraced tax subsidies for ethanol, which he had thundered against as "highway robbery" as a senator.
One of the first senators to refuse honoraria for speeches given to special-interest groups, Bradley earned more than $2 million during the first two years after he left the Senate from consulting on Wall Street and giving speeches to trade associations representing insurers, accountants, investment bankers and others.
Bradley saw himself as a tireless advocate for New Jersey's economic well-being--but as he defined it. Tax reform became his signature issue, and he spent years selling New Jersey companies on the idea that they would benefit handsomely from lower tax rates if first they would give up cherished loopholes. Many of them ended up in the vanguard of business supporters of tax reform.
But Bradley's approach sometimes put New Jersey firms at a disadvantage.
"The way the rules of engagement worked, particularly on the Finance Committee, the member from your state knew your industry and fought for it," said a prominent lobbyist who did not want his name or company mentioned. "If Bradley wouldn't take our case, we'd go to another member, and they'd say, 'Well, you're from New Jersey. What does Bradley say?' And they'd chuckle!"
Gore is not the first to lampoon Bradley's lofty posture. In 1990, a then-unknown Christine Todd Whitman almost defeated Bradley, deriding his stature as a "national senator" who left it to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to bring home the bacon. "If you wanted to change the world, you went to Bradley. If you wanted to get something done, you went to Lautenberg," recalled Steve Salmore, a New Jersey Republican consultant, put it.
In announcing his Senate retirement, Bradley said politics had turned into a rigged game, serving money and power, not average citizens.
"Bill has always had a very strong sense of what's fair," said his longest-serving chief of staff, Marcia Aronoff. She said he fought hard for New Jersey when it came to entitlement formulas and military base closings. But, she said, he refused to do "rifle shots"--legislation designed to help a single beneficiary.
"If someone called me and said, 'I went to Princeton with Bill and I've given so-many-thousand dollars to his campaign,' that was the kiss of death," said Gina Despres, Bradley's chief aide on tax reform.
As a prime architect of the 1986 tax reform bill, Bradley was positioned to deliver huge favors to his state's businesses, as did other members of the tax-writing Finance Committee. Virtually every economic interest in the state pleaded for so-called "transition rules," temporarily extending loopholes to cushion the shock of the changes.
Bradley turned them all down, saying the idea of tax reform was to eliminate special privileges for the few and lower rates for all--not to cut new deals in place of old ones.
"Senators came in asking for billions and billions of dollars for their home state," recalled Bill Diefenderfer, chief of staff to then-Finance Committee Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.). "I think Bradley maybe hit $20 million"--this, to protect the tax status of New Jersey municipal bonds.
Bradley consulted with New Jersey companies throughout the tax reform debate, O'Hara and others said, regularly asking how proposals would affect them and how problems could be solved.
After his near-defeat in 1990, Bradley went out of his way to be more responsive to state interests, particularly pharmaceutical companies. In 1992 and 1993, when a $3 billion industry tax break was under siege in the Senate, Bradley led the defense and won. Pharmaceutical industry lobbyists said they suddenly found it much easier to obtain audiences with Bradley.
Victor Pais, president of a 50-employee industrial pipe-fitting firm in Cream Ridge, N.J., had a different experience. In 1993 the Commerce Department imposed a 127 percent tariff on his imports from China in violation of department precedent, he said, and he repeatedly asked Bradley for help.
"He was so involved in the North American Free Trade Agreement debate that his aide said we couldn't get to him," Pais said. Almost a year later, the aide arranged for Bradley to send a letter to the Commerce Department supporting Pais's position, but it had no effect, Pais said.
Pais was the focus of news stories earlier this month suggesting that Bradley often wrote to the Commerce Department to help contributors with trade problems. Pais and another official of the company had given $500 each to Bradley's Senate campaign committee 15 months before his letter was written.
A native of India, Pais said he was amazed that American journalists found his case interesting. "I didn't even say to the aide, 'Guess what! I'm a donor!' It was such a paltry amount, I didn't even think about it."
CAPTION: Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, who is running as a "different" kind of politician, responds to question during campaign stop at Salemhaven Senior Center in Salem, N.H.