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Jewish World Review March 3, 2000 /26 Adar I, 5760

Roger Simon

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Bradley's believers -- LOS ANGELES -- I had never seen Eric Hauser so angry. Eric Hauser is Bill Bradley's press secretary, and he is a pretty amiable guy.

But Hauser is also a true believer. He is the opposite of a hired gun. He isn't working for Bill Bradley because Bradley could pay him the most money or because he thought it was the best way to become White House press secretary.

Hauser believes in Bill Bradley as a person and a cause, and now he was furious at the suggestion that anyone on the Bradley staff would be advising Bradley to drop out of the presidential race before the March 7 primaries.

Hauser was standing in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, which resembles what an Egyptian tomb would look like if the pharaohs had had that kind of money to throw around.

"Shoddy journalism," Hauser was saying. "It was shoddy journalism and I am going to say that at the press conference."

Hauser was talking about a piece in The Washington Post that was going to appear the next day. (You can get the next day's Post via their website at midnight Eastern time, which means 9 p.m. Los Angeles time.)

The piece that so upset Hauser quoted a senior aide saying that some Bradley supporters were urging Bradley to consider quitting the race.

Hauser was about to hold a press conference to say that Bradley was not considering it and that nobody on the staff would ever consider such a thing.

"This campaign is unanimous in its aggressive desire to go forward on March 7," Hauser said at the press conference. "At the senior level, we are absolutely unified. We believe we can win."

Well, OK. That's what true believers are for.

But what would be so ridiculous in an aide presenting the idea of dropping out to Bradley?

The aide could say this: "Senator, you are clearly the best person for the job and you have run a terrific race. But you just got creamed in Washington state after spending six days campaigning there."

Bradley might say that March 7 would be a whole new ball game with more than a dozen states up for grabs.

"But are they really up for grabs?" the aide could say. "Currently you do not lead in the polls in a single state. New York, where you were doing so well, now looks like it is slipping away. Ditto in Massachusetts, and in California you could very well get creamed again. Heck, Senator, in your home state of Missouri you are now trailing Al Gore."

I suppose aides really don't talk to candidates that way, but I think every now and then they should. Every now and then reality should creep into a campaign.

The fact is that Bill Bradley has not won a single primary. The fact is also that on March 7 he might lose every contest (or just win a single state like Maine) and be reduced to a national laughing stock.

True, he can still spread his message if he stays in the race. But what has his message been lately? It has been that Al Gore is a bad fellow who doesn' t tell the truth and who once was more conservative than he is now.

What's the point of spreading that message now? Does Bradley want to weaken Gore so that George W. Bush can become president? Does he want that to be his legacy to Campaign 2000?

Sure Bradley could switch to a positive message, but who is still listening?

And even if he decides to spread a positive message, it would cost him millions and millions of dollars. The March 7 race is called a "tarmac campaign" because it is so spread out and involves such big states that a candidate just flies from stop to stop, getting off, walking to a microphone on the tarmac, doing some TV satellite interviews and taking off again. The other way a candidate communicates is through TV commercials, and buying airtime in California and New York is very expensive.

It is estimated that Bill Bradley has about 16 million dollars left. But his nickname from his basketball days was "Dollar Bill" not just because he made a lot of dollars, but because he was very tight with a buck.

So does Dollar Bill really want to spend 10 or 15 million dollars in a cause that has no reasonable chance of making him president?

And what is so wrong with getting out now with his head held high? At least that way he might be able to run again some day.

I tried this theory out on one of his aides who was shocked and dismayed.

"You don't quit in the fourth quarter!" the aide said. "You never quit before the game is over!"

But sports is just a metaphor for politics. It is not really politics.

Yes, we don't want athletes to quit before the game is over. The rules do not allow it and the spectators would not enjoy it.

But the rules are different for politics. Every now and then in politics you take a long, hard look at what you can win and what you will lose, and you make a decision based on logic.

I know Bradley doesn't want to disappoint his staff and his supporters, but they are not spectators at a basketball game.

And Bill Bradley has the power to bring his campaign to an end with dignity and grace and not be called a quitter.

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