Bradley visits Inner Harbor, rallies supporters in Bethesda

`I think we're going to surprise some people,' challenger to Gore says

March 06, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Bill Bradley ended what might be the last weekend of his campaign for the presidential nomination in Maryland yesterday, visiting a place where he is probably better known for his jump shot than his health care proposal.

The former basketball star spent almost an hour at the ESPN Zone at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, shaking hands and chatting with patrons of the restaurant and sports entertainment complex.

He then went to his state campaign headquarters in Bethesda, giving his stump speech to an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred that crammed into the multitiered courtyard of the office building on Wisconsin Ave.

Trailing badly in the polls to Vice President Al Gore, his rival for the Democratic nomination, in virtually every state -- including Maryland -- that votes in tomorrow's Super Tuesday primaries, Bradley said he was far from giving up.

"I think we're going to surprise some people on Tuesday," he said. "Harry Truman was trailing in the polls in the week before the vote" in the 1948 presidential election.

Noting surges by himself and Republican Sen. John McCain before the New Hampshire primary, Bradley said, "I really think in this election, people don't make up their minds until they go into the voting booth."

Bradley acknowledged that he will need some wins tomorrow to keep his campaign going and named Maryland as one of the states -- others included Connecticut, New York and his native Missouri -- where he expected victories.

"Look at this enthusiasm," Maryland campaign director Raymond F. Schoenke Jr. said after the Bethesda rally. "I think we can win because we know our people are going to turn out."

Bradley hardly mentioned Gore in his speech at the rally, instead pushing his core issues -- health care, child poverty and campaign finance reform.

"It is fine if the wealthy people of America want to buy as many cars and houses and yachts as they want," Bradley said on campaign finance reform. "But they do not have the right to buy our democracy."

Gore has stopped mentioning Bradley in his stump speeches, but said yesterday that doing so didn't mean he assumed he had locked up the nomination.

"I thought that his tone changed in the last several days with far less of the attacks that have become commonplace, and I wanted to reciprocate," Gore told reporters as he traveled to Cranston, R.I., to discuss seniors' health issues. Gore was endorsed yesterday by the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bradley began his day on the Sunday television news talk shows and then attended services at Bethel Baptist Church in Buffalo, N.Y.

Several hundred supporters waited in front of the ESPN Zone, down the street from the Baltimore Arena where their candidate used to bedevil the Baltimore Bullets 30 years ago when he played for the New York Knicks.

The Bradley motorcade pulled up at 2 p.m., a half-hour behind schedule, and the candidate, dressed casually in a red sweater and open-necked shirt, worked the line, shaking every hand that was offered.

Helen Alper of Baltimore was among the crowd. She said Bradley's was the first campaign she had volunteered for. "I know his ideas are not just slogans," she said. "They're part of a well-thought-out plan."

But many of those outside were like David Mosley, 33, of West Friendship. He was glad to get a handshake, but said he did not plan to vote for Bradley.

"He just isn't addressing the issues that interest me," Mosley said. "I saw Bill Clinton once, and you could feel the excitement as he walked through the crowd. You didn't get that with Bradley."

Inside the ESPN Zone, the restaurant's staff battled to keep the national media entourage out of the way of heavily-laden waitresses. Bradley sat down in the radio studio for an interview that went out on ESPN radio. And he went from table to table, interrupting the lunches of numerous patrons, who seemed glad to meet the celebrity in their midst.

Sports fans in the lounge's plush chairs reached out to shake Bradley's hand, but no one budged from their seat. Bradley seemed oblivious to the huge screen behind him that was showing his Knicks losing to the Utah Jazz -- 88-79.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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