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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2000 /6 Shevat, 5760

Roger Simon

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Bradley's secret weapon -- DES MOINES, Iowa -- The son of a banker, Bill Bradley has always know the value of a buck. And if he manages to pull an upset and defeat Al Gore for the Democratic nomination for president, it is going to be bucks that did it.

Bucks won't be the only thing, of course -- Bradley does have a message and programs and positions -- but without the bucks he raised early on, few would have listened to him.

From the very beginning of his campaign, even before most people knew he had a campaign, he made the raising of money a priority. Money, he knew, would not only buy him things, but money would give him credibility, money would make the press take him seriously.

Bradley, a former three-term senator, had a large network of friends and people who owed him favors, having campaigned unglamorously for years for Democrats, even down to the level of county sheriffs and district attorneys.

"He would come in and give a terrible speech," an aide for one such candidate said, "but he would draw people to the fund-raiser because he was a baskteball star. We loved it. He was great for us."

Bradley also did something nobody had ever done before: He commissioned a demographic study of America that revealed that 30 million Americans could afford to give $1,000 to a political campaign "without denting their lifestyle," in the words of his Princeton basketball teammate and national finance director Rick Wright.

Considering only 400,000 people gave any amount of money to a presidential candidate in 1996 and only 31,000 gave a $1,000, the legal limit set in 1974 when $1,000 was considered a lot of money, the Bradley campaign realized that the potential pool of contributors was so huge, they only had to tap a tiny percentage.

"We figured even if we could reach just a half-percent, we would be competitive," Wright said.

The irony of this is not lost on the Gore campaign. "The success of their fund raising is a validation of the strength of the Clinton/Gore economy!" said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.

Which did not bother the Bradley people a bit. They didn't care how people made their disposable cash, they just wanted to be on the receiving end of it.

And the campaign raised money the only way campaigns can: The candidate got on the phone and called people.

Bradley, who had raised $11 million in his last Senate race, knew how it was done and this time he reached out to people that Gore had not already put a headlock on: sports figures, big-business people, Wall Street types, and people in the arts and education.

Bradley was not just asking them for money, he was asking them to raise money. The Gore campaign, still thinking that Bush, not Bradley, was their major competitor, started to take notice when people like Abe Pollin, majority owner of the Washington Wizards and the stadium they play in, raised $300,000 for Bradley.

"Abe Pollin never raises money for traditional candidates," a professional fund-raiser not working for Bradley told me. "He gives money, but he doesn't raise money. But he did for Bradley. And this took Gore by surprise. Bradley was raising money on his star power. I am not a Bradley supporter, but his fund raising has been amazing. There is no other word for it. He is raising money from the free throw line."

And by the end of 1999, Bradley reportedly had more cash on hand than Gore: $8.3 million to $5.2 million.

But money merely allows you to play the game, it doesn't gurantee you a win.

"He needs the Royal Flush," Gore spokesman Lehane said. "He has to beat us in Iowa, New Hampshire, California and New York, and then win over the superdelegates." Gore starts off the nomination race with a built-in advantage: non-binding commitments by 500 "supperdelegates," mostly party leaders and elected officials, who get to cast a vote at the Democratic Convention. Considering a candidate needs 2,169 to win, Gore has a good lead before the first vote is even cast.

But Bradley claims those delegates will switch to him when he racks up victory after victory in the caucuses and primaries.

Bradley intends to do this by expanding the voting universe. "I am trying to bring more people into the process, give them a voice and let them know that the Democratic Party can stand for big things again, just as it did under FDR and LBJ," Bradley told me. "I am going after people not part of the process now, people who are disillusioned, people who don't usually vote and Democrats who are yearning to be real Democrats again."

While both Gore and Bradley would like a quick knockout, they are both prepared for a lengthy struggle.

"I think March will be cruelest month for one of us," Bradley's communication director Anita Dunn said, "but this will go beyond March. They have always underestimated the depth of our support and the depth of our committment."

The scenario the Bradley people consider the most realistic is a slugfest that goes down to the last primary, which, they like to point out, is New Jersey, which Braldley represented for 18 years and where he just happens to live.

And, in fact, they are prepared to go beyond that into what would be the most electrifying political event in some time: A party convention that is more than just one big party.

"I can draw a convention scenario very easily," a senior Bradley adviser says. "That's where this could be decided. On the floor of the convention in Los Angeles."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate