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Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 1999 /13 Teves, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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Bradley's full-court press -- IF WE GLEAN NOTHING ELSE from the last two Democratic presidential debates, we should recognize that Bill Bradley has Al Gore on the defensive.

Prior to the first debate several weeks ago, Bradley vowed not to get personal and not to engage in negative campaigning. Gore, who has earned his reputation as a ruthless debater, seized on Bradley's announced strategy of appeasement and steamrolled over Dollar Bill in their first outing.

During that encounter, Gore taunted Bradley, publicly challenging him to weekly debates. True to form, Bradley retained his composure and refused to take the bait. Following that night, pundits were nearly unanimous in predicting that Bradley would be finished unless he abandoned his pledge to keep his campaign pristine.

After watching parts of both the second and third debates, I have concluded that Bradley must have made a conscious decision to change course, realizing that he's in a war and will be annihilated unless he takes up arms.

Gore probably never anticipated a serious challenge to his nomination and has been behaving as though Bradley is improperly interfering with his entitlement to the throne. Gore now knows he's in a dogfight, and Bradley is going to make him sweat every inch of the way.

Gore is knowledgeable on the issues and generally a formidable debater. But what he seems to lack is flexibility, the ability to adjust when an opponent doesn't react as most of his previous ones have. Gore has a one-size fits all, bull in a china shop approach to debates. He substitutes volume for inflection and supercharged ranting for emotion.

Ever since Bradley caught Gore in the New Hampshire polls, Gore has been searching for a strategy to stop Bradley's momentum. As such, Gore has exhibited a tinge of nervousness, if not subtle desperation.

Gore's desperation was revealed when he publicly challenged Bradley during the debate to agree to forego all television and radio commercials for the duration of the nomination battle. The unflappable Bradley again refused to bite. But this time, he lashed back, labeling Gore's offer as a "ploy and "a ridiculous proposal, not worthy of discussion."

Bradley quipped, "It sounds like you're having trouble raising money."

Gore may come to regret forcing Bradley off of his usually tranquil game plan. Gore has unwittingly awakened a sleeping giant in Bradley, someone who will not take nonstop abuse sitting down.

Now that Bradley has Gore on the run, he should consider turning up the heat to a full-court press. After all, Bradley has a particularly vulnerable opponent in Gore, once the fierce facade is removed.

Not surprisingly, his Achille's heel is his symbiotic relationship with Bill Clinton. As this campaign has unfolded, it has become increasingly obvious that Gore has done a miserable job of trying to distance himself from the Clinton scandals while assuming partnership credit for the economic prosperity under Clinton's watch. This forebodes very badly for Gore, as recent polls show that 50 percent of the American people now believe Clinton should have been impeached -- up from 32 percent a year ago.

Gore has declined opportunities to sever his ties to the Clinton scandals. He refused Tim Russert's offer to retract his post-impeachment declaration that history would remember Clinton as one of this nation's greatest presidents. Parroting the tortured logic of Clinton defenders, he characterized Clinton's felonies as private acts that are more than outweighed by his public service. He dismissed Clinton's alleged rape of Juanita Broddrick as a mistake.

He said that any efforts by the Clintons to seek government reimbursement for $5 million in remaining legal fees "would be legal."

What Gore demonstrated is more than just the required loyalty of a vice president to his president. He has brought into serious question his judgment and his qualifications as a moral leader.

Bradley may be a long way from having turned the tide in this campaign, but it will be interesting to see whether he chooses to capitalize on this transparent chink in Gore's armor. It would be a delicious turn of irony if Bradley opts to employ against Gore the Clinton/Gore administration's tactic of demonizing its political opponents. But if Gore continues to shoot himself in both feet, Bradley may not even have to.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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