CHICAGO - Bill Bradley, putting aside the questions about Vice President Al Gore's trustworthiness he expressed in their bitter Democratic primary fight last winter, formally endorsed Gore for president yesterday at a joint appearance in Green Bay, Wis.
Bradley said that for him, the choice between Gore and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, the presumptive Republican nominee, "is not even close."
Citing the late Green Bay Packers coaching great Vince Lombardi that "winning is a team sport," Bradley climbed aboard the Gore team with a low-key joint appearance in which he prodded his party to act more aggressively to address the nation's pressing social needs despite the prosperity created during the Clinton-Gore years.
But in an interview here before their appearance, Bradley continued to show a less than enthusiastic attitude toward Gore. He gave, for example, as his main justification for endorsing the vice president that "in my judgment he'd be a better president than George Bush, because a Democrat is what we need in the White House for all the issues that I care about."
At the same time, the former New Jersey senator did allow that Gore's abilities, "particularly related to understanding technological change and where the country is headed," recommended his candidacy to him.
"And I don't think that's a small thing," Bradley said. "And I think that's the quality he has and the ability he has that will be terribly important in the next years, because the world is going to be a totally different place in eight years."
In the interview, Bradley also said he was "very pleased" that some of the "big ideas" he focused on in his own campaign - health care reform, elimination of child poverty, education and campaign finance reform - were being embraced by Gore. The vice president's proposal to ban soft money and adopt other reforms, Bradley said, is "a creative idea, but it bears an eerie resemblance" to what Bradley himself proposed in 1995.
"I take that as a compliment," he said. "I noticed George Bush isn't saying that."
Bradley, asked about the doubts he had raised during his campaign about Gore's honesty, said several times that he was "not going to rehash the primary campaign," observing that "this is not then, this is now."
Questioned about his observation in March, when he ended his campaign, that Gore needed to allay the issue of his fund-raising activities "by opening up on what happened in 1996," Bradley suggested that Gore's release of his testimony explaining his actions might not have ended the matter.
Bradley said he had not read the Gore testimony in full but had seen some newspaper accounts.
"I think in the course of the process he's clearly answered a lot of questions the Justice Department put to him. But again, he's got to make that judgment" - presumably about whether Gore has said all he needs to.
On his role in this fall's campaign, Bradley said, "It's very important that we have a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president, and I'll be out campaigning for people as I have for the last 20 years for those who think I can be helpful to their effort."
Bradley is expected to have a prime-time speaking role at the Democratic National Convention next month.
Having already said he would not accept the vice-presidential nomination, Bradley also dismissed the possibility of serving in a Gore Cabinet. He said he expects to work in the private sector in a way in which he can "make a difference" and "continue to inspire and activate people's hopes" on the issues he raised as a candidate.
Bradley said he was "leaving it open" about whether to make another presidential bid but called it "highly unlikely."
In any event, he said, "if I decided not to run for president again it would not be because of this year. It would be because there would be other things that captured my total commitment and involvement."
Though he said he would not rehash his strategy against Gore during the primaries, Bradley did reflect briefly on what went wrong in an effort that brought him 421 convention delegates but failed to produce a victory in any primary.
He said his objectives were right, but "I needed to connect [with] the heart as well as the head," seeming to suggest that his relatively cerebral approach faltered for lack of expressed passion.
Bradley cited as "one of the good moments" of the campaign his joint appearance with Republican Sen. John McCain, in which they pledged cooperation on campaign finance reform. Some associates had warned him that it "might help McCain" at his own expense, Bradley said, "but I felt it was important [to show] that two politicians could put political interests aside."
In fact, McCain's upset victory over Bush in the New Hampshire may well have drawn enough independent support from Bradley to prevent an upset victory of his own there over Gore.
At their joint appearance in Wisconsin yesterday, Gore called Bradley "a good Democrat who speaks and stands for principles we all believe in."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.