MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Former Sen. Bill Bradley, calling his strong, though losing effort in the New Hampshire primary "a re markable turnaround" from his lopsided loss to Vice President Al Gore last week in Iowa, vowed last night that he was "better prepared and eager to continue the fight" for the Democratic presidential nomination.
His showing keeps him in the thick of their contest.
"We leave New Hampshire and head south and west," he said, asking supporters to remember that "the new politics began here," a reference to his campaign theme calling for an end to old special-interest and negative politics.
But it was Bradley's decision to stop turning the other cheek to Gore's assaults on his Senate record and campaign proposals, as he did in Iowa, and to accuse Gore, in effect, of lying, that appears to have made the outcome closer in New Hampshire.
Bradley will have more than a month -- and nearly $20 million in his campaign treasury -- to take his insurgent campaign against Gore to Super Tuesday, March 7, when 15 states will choose 1,315 national-convention delegates, or about 60 percent of the 2,169 needed for nomination.
Not surprisingly, Bradley and Gore will concentrate on California (367 delegates) and New York (243) on a day that Bradley's national campaign chairman, Doug Berman, has called 2000's "national primary."
Besides Maryland, the other state primaries on that day are in Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio, Georgia and Missouri.
The caucus states are North Dakota, Idaho, Washington and Hawaii.
The five New England states may get more attention from the candidates than they might attract individually because collectively they will elect 207 delegates and are easy to cover in a trip of a day or two.
Maryland's 68 delegates should also warrant some candidate coverage. Unlike the electoral vote in November, which is on a winner-take-all basis, the convention delegates will generally be awarded according to the proportion of votes garnered in each state.
The first tangible indication of Bradley's confidence here came in his challenge to Gore, even before the polls had closed, to debate once a week between now and Super Tuesday. Earlier, Bradley had dodged Gore's call for debates twice a week. Gore last night issued a tentative acceptance.
There was some speculation earlier that a Bradley defeat in New Hampshire, on the heels of his big loss to Gore in the Iowa caucuses, would drive him from the race.
But that was never a possibility, in light of his hefty campaign bankroll and long-range plan pointing to Super Tuesday. Although Bradley outspent Gore in New Hampshire, overall he has spent about $4 million less, and with federal subsidies is about even with him in cash on hand.
Bradley's strong showing in New Hampshire helped counter that defeat in Iowa. There, the vice president effectively painted him as insensitive to farmers based on a vote Bradley had cast in the Senate against giving more disaster relief to the Midwest after heavy flooding in 1993. Bradley had voted for the basic flood relief legislation but failed to defend his record in a telling debate, leaving an impression of aloofness with many Iowa voters.
Gore also threw Bradley on the defensive with suggestions that his ambitious health-care proposals would hurt minorities and the elderly.
Although the vice president misrepresented parts of the Bradley plan, the former senator complained only mildly through Iowa, sticking to his year-long pledge to campaign in a positive mode on his own proposals.
After the Iowa defeat, Bradley's advisers pressured him to respond, and in his subsequent New Hampshire debate with Gore he changed tactics, charging the vice president with distorting his record and proposals and questioning Gore's trustworthiness.
Gore seized on Bradley's switch by accusing him of being the candidate who was first to go negative while he continued to campaign above the fray.
Much as Gore had trotted out Bradley's Senate voting record on flood relief in Iowa, Bradley pointed to congressional votes by Gore in the 1980s against federal funding of abortion to refute Gore's claim that he had always supported abortion rights. Gore acknowledged the votes but said he was solidly for women's right to choose.
One question coming out of the New Hampshire primary is whether Bradley in more aggressively defending himself and questioning Gore's truthfulness helped himself or tarnished his carefully constructed image as a high-road candidate.
He has tried to continue espousing "a new politics" of positive campaigning while accusing Gore of straying from the truth in his attacks on the Bradley record and reciting his own record.
In the month ahead, a pivotal question is whether the Bradley counterattacks in New Hampshire will become standard for him or will prove to be only a detour off the high road to blunt Gore's assault here, which threatened to bury his candidacy.