Despite Gore win, Bradley camp satisfied with strong showing

Former senator looking toward March 7 primaries

Iowa Caucuses

January 25, 2000|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The game of expectations was in full swing last night as Vice President Al Gore scored a clear victory over former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey in Iowa's Democratic precinct caucuses. Bradley strategists nevertheless expressed satisfaction with their man's showing.

Gore, asked at the start of the night how many votes he hoped to amass, said he would be satisfied with "one more vote than the other guy," and he far exceeded that tongue-in-cheek aspiration. He led Bradley 63-35.

Bradley declined to specify what would be an impressive showing for him, observing that it would be "what you [the news media] say it is." But his national campaign chairman, Douglas Berman, noted that Bradley was doing better than any previous Democratic insurgent candidate in the Iowa caucuses had. In 1980, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy managed 31 percent here in his challenge to President Jimmy Carter.

Candidates and their managers always set the bar low for what they need to win to claim success, and last night was no exception. The only real significance is that Gore demonstrated his strength without knocking out Bradley, and the Democratic campaign moves on to New Hampshire's primary a week from today.

Bradley made clear last night that he would go on. He congratulated Gore and added, "I know I will be seeing a lot of him in the coming weeks." Gore took up the challenge, declaring, "We've just begun to fight."

Though the New Hampshire primary is the next critical one, Berman insisted that another Gore victory there will not determine the Democratic nomination.

The Bradley campaign, Berman said, is pointing toward what he calls "the national primary" on March 7 -- primaries in 11 states including California, New York, Ohio and Maryland -- as decisive.

Gore has the support of most of the convention's 800 super delegates -- party leaders seated by nature of their official positions. Berman argued that if Bradley can win impressively enough March 7 to unglue Gore's hold on them, he can take the nomination away from the vice president.

But Bradley is not likely to get any notable boost from his Iowa showing.

In spite of spending close to $2.2 million in the state and mounting a widespread field operation, he was out-organized by Gore, who had the backing of organized labor and most of the party establishment.

Bradley, before the voting, told voters repeatedly that he was up against "entrenched power" in the party, and there was no doubt about it.

The AFL-CIO directed a formidable get-out-the-vote operation for Gore among its 100,000 registered Iowa members -- of whom about 55,000 are registered as Democrats -- plus about 10,000 more registered Democrats in the Iowa State Education Association. According to Mark Smith, president of the state AFL-CIO, one of every 10 Democrats in Iowa is a member of a labor union.

In many elections, an event or incident encapsulates the campaign. In this one, it may have occurred Jan. 8 in the debate between Gore and Bradley sponsored by the Des Moines Register and televised nationally.

In a segment of the debate in which the candidates asked each other a question, Gore turned to Bradley and inquired why in 1993, when heavy floods hit the Midwest, he had voted in the Senate against disaster relief.

Gore punctuated the question by asking a farmer in the audience named Chris Peterson, a supporter who had lost 300 of his 400 acres to flooding, to stand.

The moment was a carefully calculated ambush of Bradley, and it clearly caught him unprepared. He had voted for flood relief -- not mentioned by Gore -- but did cast a vote against an amendment that would have increased the allocation.

Rather than offering an explanation, Bradley sidestepped the question of that vote, observing: "This is not about the past. This is about the future."

Gore bored in, reiterating a challenge to Bradley to debate him on farm issues anywhere in Iowa. Bradley shook off the challenge, instead recycling President Ronald Reagan's old line from his 1976 debate with Carter, asking Iowa farmers: "Are you better off than you were seven years ago?"

Bradley's campaign, which had been gaining strength until that debate, appeared to stall thereafter in this state, whose economy is closely tied to agriculture but where unemployment is under 3 percent.

In New Hampshire, Bradley will not have to contend with farm issues the way they were part of the dialogue here.

He can only hope that his Iowa loss will not have much negative impact in the first primary state.

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