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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2000 / 1 Adar I, 5760

Chris Matthews

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A prime-time primary for California


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- MANCHESTER, New Hampshire - The big news in tomorrow's voting here is that the California presidential primary, advanced this year to March 7, is now going to count.

The two mavericks who made such a showing in New England, Bill Bradley and John McCain, are heading to the Golden West.

For awhile here, it didn't look like that would happen.

Had Al Gore scored a smashing triumph in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, as the late polls predicted, the challenge by the former NBA star and U.S. senator from New Jersey might now lie dead in the New Hampshire snow.

Tuesday's contest was decided for the vice president by just 6,649 votes, 75,449 to 68,800. But it gives Bradley the credibility to wage a competitive campaign through an avalanche of Democratic primaries on the first Tuesday in March: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington.

California is, of course, the grand prize in this huge cache of delegates.

Based upon his strong showing in New Hampshire, Bradley could pose a major threat to the vice president in New York and Connecticut, in whose joint media market he enjoyed a decade of stardom with the celebrated Knicks. His boyhood roots along the Mississippi River give Bradley the chance to win in his native Missouri.

But for Bradley, the next and last opportunity to crack Gore's sense of inevitability lies in California.

It is there that his Kennedyesque appeal to ideals, his Olympian celebrity and maverick challenge to politics-as-usual can truly be tested against his rival's case for Clinton-Gore continuity.

John McCain, whose New Hampshire campaign proved an uneasy night of the soul, awoke Wednesday with his own California dream. His 19-point win over Texas Gov. George W. Bush in New Hampshire confirmed his strategy of skipping the Iowa caucuses the week before.

If he wins in South Carolina on Feb. 19, he will prove the most daring island-hopper since Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He will have positioned himself for an all-out struggle with Bush in California and elsewhere on March 7.

Who wins in California may well depend on a number of factors. Bradley has the money to compete with Gore, but does he have the message?

Can he sharpen his case to Democrats and independents that Bill Clinton's pliant vice president is not a credible champion of reform?

McCain, who may lack the money to compete with the well-financed Texas governor, has no lack of message. His Tuesday night attack on the "truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore" showed that may be the toughest, best line of the 2000 campaign so far.

McCain is sounding like a man who has already become his party's presidential nominee. More to the point, he's campaigning like a man who might win.

If that sells in the South in the next two weeks, the voters of California may find themselves with two decisive presidential contests the morning of March 7, with the country rooting for the mavericks to knock off the well-born sons.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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