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Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2000 /24 Teves, 5760

Chris Matthews

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Dangers in Gore's dirty war -- AL GORE'S ruthless assault on rival Bill Bradley confronts him with a trio of dangers to his presidential chances next November.

Danger No. 1 The thoughtful NBA veteran wins the nomination fight by licking Gore in New Hampshire on Feb. 1, then delivering victories in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and California on March 7, big-state triumphs that Gore can neither explain nor answer.

Danger No. 2 Bradley does well enough in these early contests to keep his campaign alive through the spring primary campaign, dividing the party between the Gore forces loyal to Bill Clinton and Bradley insurgents wanting a clean break from the scandal-stained past.

Danger No. 3 Gore's scorched-earth war on Bradley's positions, especially on health care, stirs such deep bitterness that the former three-term New Jersey senator leaves the Los Angeles convention floor angry, his fans hostile to the man who impugned his honor.

The second and third dangers are not, it must be noted, mutually exclusive. Gore's nasty attacks on Bradley could succeed in the short term but fail in November. They could convince Bradley supporters they were right all along about Gore: He will do whatever it takes to pursue his native ambition to be president, whether it's lavishing praise on a just-impeached Clinton or piling dirt on his decent rival Bradley.

This is the danger inherent in Gore's negative response to the Bradley challenge. Rather than defend his loyalty to Clinton, he has spent the last months of 1999 assaulting Bradley's loyalty to the party.

Bradley is a quitter, Gore has argued, as if choosing not to spend a lifetime in the Senate represents a moral weakness. Bradley is not a "real" Democrat, the vice president suggests, as if looking for new solutions to old problems in health care and education constitutes heresy.

Such ward-heeler talk may sell with hardcore Democrats, the bloc voters who flock to the party line, the "DNC types" who can be counted upon to back the most familiar face in any given race.

Where the negative Gore campaign is likely to boomerang is among the more independent voters looking for fresh ideas and, after the recent indignities in and around the Oval Office, a clean slate.

These people are unlikely to be won over by a Gore campaign that condemns Bill Bradley for offering precisely what they want: a fresh start. The nastier Gore gets now, the more likely he is to lose such voters later.

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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