DES MOINES, Iowa -- Vice President Al Gore accused former Sen. Bill Bradley yesterday of failing the Democratic Party in its two "most defining moments of the last 20 years" by voting for Reaganomics and then leaving Congress in Republican control instead of staying and fighting.
Gore told reporters that his sole foe for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination had supported President Ronald Reagan's economic policies in 1981. "That was the single most defining vote for Democrats of the last 20 years," Gore said. "I voted against it. I fought against it. Some folks felt that in order to survive politically they should vote for it."
The second most defining moment, he said, "has been what the reaction was when Newt Gingrich tried to solidify the Reaganomics approach, and each of us was called upon either to fight against it with everything we have, or not." Asked if he was saying the former New Jersey senator had quit, Gore replied: "I have not used that word; others have."
For himself, Gore said, he did not "walk away."
The vice president did not mention Bradley by name, but his comments were in response to a question about their differences. He voiced the allegations in the context of repeating his challenge to Bradley to debate him, calling this time for weekly debates on a range of subjects from farm policy to the environment, and specifically their positions on Reaganomics in the 1980s. "I'd like to debate every week," he said. "Why not use this election to elevate this campaign?"
In town for party dinner
Gore's remarks came as he and Bradley were in Des Moines for the state Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner.
Bradley's improving standing in polls outside the state, coupled with signs of disarray in Gore's moving his headquarters to Nashville and his call for a series of debates, put sharp focus on their visits to Iowa.
Gore attended a pancake breakfast at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge and spoke to students at Iowa State University in Ames in advance of the Des Moines event.
Bradley capped two days of campaigning in the Des Moines area by walking a local precinct where Iowa Democrats will gather to voice their preference between the two on caucus night.
Different leadership style
The former senator continued to dodge Gore's debate call and mentioned the vice president only once, when asked at a Des Moines backyard reception how a Bradley presidency would differ from one led by Gore. He said he would have a very different style of leadership marked by "taking big risks," as in his recent proposal to extend federally paid health insurance to all children and to provide access to health insurance to all other uninsured.
Bradley called health care for the 45 million uninsured Americans "a big problem" that "needs a big solution." Gore, he said, "was more timid" in his own proposal to deal with the uninsured.
Also, he said, his experience in the private work force as well as the Senate contrasted with Gore, who he said has "had a life primarily based in Washington. It gives us a different perspective."
Gore also took a verbal poke at Bradley at the Fort Dodge event, observing without mentioning him by name that "I've never been tempted to leave the Democratic Party," an obvious reference to his opponent's statement when announcing in 1996 he would leave the Senate that "politics is broken."
Although each of the Democratic candidates had been in Iowa at least 18 times this year, this simultaneous visit drew heavy news media attention because Bradley's chances to beat Gore for the party's nomination had been widely disparaged until the former senator's surge in polls in New Hampshire and New York, and the recent shake-up in the Gore campaign that saw its relocation to Nashville.
In an unusual step for a front-runner, Gore not only challenged Bradley to a string of debates but also declared himself the underdog in the race and vowed that he would fight Bradley, whom he had virtually ignored up to then, aggressively for the party nomination.
Bradley sticks to plan
Bradley, in turning aside Gore's challenge, said he would engage in some debates but intended to follow his own campaign plan of concentrating on grass-roots encounters with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early caucus and primary states. Early polls in Iowa have put Gore comfortably ahead.
Gore, in campaigning energetically in the Iowa caucuses, is doing a turnabout from 12 years ago, when he sought the presidency for the first time.
Then, running last in Iowa polls, he took the occasion of the party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner to denigrate the state's caucuses, calling them "a nominating process that gives one state the loudest voice and then produces candidates who can't even carry the state."
Iowa had not gone Democratic since 1964. It didn't in 1988, either, but did vote for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
Gore told the dinner audience then: "I won't do what the pundits say it takes to win in Iowa -- flatter you with promises, change my tune or back down on my convictions." He finished far back of the field in the 1988 caucuses.
Until yesterday, Iowa's Republicans had held center stage in the state's 1999 politics with their massive presidential candidate forum and straw vote in August, won by Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But Bush's victory, coupled with a huge lead in campaign fund raising, has made him the odds-on favorite not only to win Iowa's Republican caucuses but also the GOP nomination.
Confusion over caucuses
Of equal concern to Iowa political activists is new confusion over when the Iowa caucuses will be held in 2000. State law, established to protect Iowa's tradition as the first state to start its presidential convention delegate-selection process, says the caucuses must take place at least eight days before the process begins in any other state.
New Hampshire had been expected to choose Feb. 8, so Iowa selected Jan. 31.
But in a surprise move, New Hampshire's secretary of state settled on Feb. 1, meaning Iowa would have to shift its date to Jan. 24. Iowa's Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack vowed, however, to stick to Jan. 31, triggering protests here that the Iowa caucuses would lose their influence if held the night before the New Hampshire voting.
Opponents of Vilsack's decision say there would not be enough time for the Iowa results to have much impact on voting in New Hampshire and on fund raising by those who fared well here.
The dispute is expected to rage on between Iowa and New Hampshire political figures.
Pub Date: 10/10/99