Gore, Bradley neck and neck on primary eve

As he closes the gap, new questions arise over Bradley's health

January 31, 2000|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BEDFORD, N.H. -- Bill Bradley intensified his assault on Al Gore's honesty yesterday, but new revelations about Bradley's health again threw a shadow over his candidacy on the eve of a key primary contest.

Bradley, who has been gaining on Gore heading into tomorrow's primary election in New Hampshire, disclosed that he needed to undergo an electrical shock procedure three times since 1996 to force his heart rhythm back to normal.

His doctors say Bradley's periods of irregular heartbeat, which have become more frequent in recent weeks, are not a serious threat to his health and that he is in excellent condition.

But the former New Jersey senator said he would consider invoking the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, turning over his duties temporarily to the vice president, if he had to undergo the shock treatment, known as cardioversion, as president.

"You're under anesthesia for a couple of minutes, they jolt you with electricity, and then your heart goes back in, and then you're normal and you continue with your life," said Bradley, explaining that he usually goes home and takes a nap to recover after the procedure.

On the New Hampshire campaign trail, Bradley has come out swinging against Gore after polls here showed him falling further behind the vice president. Since going on the attack, Bradley's poll numbers have turned around.

A new Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey showed Bradley in a statistical dead heat with Gore in the leadoff primary state. On the Republican side, Arizona Sen. John McCain held a slim, 5-point margin over Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Gore responded to Bradley's remarks by condemning him for having "suddenly changed" into a candidate who delivers "manipulative attack after manipulative attack." He accused his rival of reducing his once high-minded candidacy "to the level of personal vilification."

The two top Democratic leaders in Congress, both Gore backers, issued a public statement of concern about the sharply negative tack Bradley's campaign has taken.

Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri urged Bradley to "abandon negative, personal attacks that do not bring credit to this nomination contest or to the Democratic Party."

Gore strategists believe their candidate has enough support from Democratic voters and party officials to hold off Bradley in the primaries and win the nomination. But they fear that Gore could be out of money and badly damaged by the time Bradley is finished with him, leaving Democrats at a disadvantage heading into the fall campaign.

Bradley, who appears to be warming slowly to his new incarnation as an attack politician, continues to step up his criticism of Gore over campaign finance, abortion and the character of the vice president's campaign.

In a television interview, Bradley refused to rule out the possibility that, as president, he would request a special prosecutor to provide the nation with "a full accounting" of campaign finance abuses by both major parties in the 1996 election.

And he indicated that Gore is attempting to "manipulate the people" by failing to tell the truth about his abortion record and other topics.

"There is a pattern here of misrepresentation that is very troubling. And that's why I think we need a fresh start and a new politics," Bradley said on ABC's "This Week." "It's not simply related to misrepresentation, but it's also related to money. It's also related to patterns of denying reality."

Bradley is airing a television ad in New Hampshire that accuses Gore of straddling the abortion issue. It casts Bradley as the only Democrat who has consistently supported abortion rights.

Gore, who has been a strong supporter of abortion rights for the past 12 years, acknowledged in recent days that he changed his position on the issue earlier in his career. As a Tennessee congressman in the 1980s, he supported anti-abortion measures, including legislation that would, "from the moment of conception," have given a fetus the legal rights of a person.

Gore's switch on abortion has long been known and was aired during his unsuccessful presidential candidacy in 1988. But in a debate last week, Gore insisted that he had "always supported a woman's right to choose" and had never lied in his current campaign.

The vice president's standing in the New Hampshire polls has begun to slip in recent days as the controversy over abortion has accelerated.

However, Gore's prospects might have been helped by the latest news about Bradley's health, which started with an interview that Bradley gave here last week to a New York Times reporter.

Though Bradley's opponents in both parties were careful to say that they did not think his minor heart condition should be a campaign issue, it was hard for voters to ignore news coverage about it in the final hours before the ballot.

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