Amiable Democratic debate may signal endgame of Gore-Bradley contest
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In stark contrast to their previous forum, courteous agreements rather than bitter accusations set the tone of Wednesday night's Democratic presidential debate between Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley -- leading some debate-watchers to wonder if the end is in sight for Bradley's campaign.
"I agree with that" replaced "let me finish" as the phrase most-often uttered between Gore and Bradley during the 90-minute debate sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times.
Vice President Al Gore debated former Sen. Bill Bradley Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Bradley passed up numerous opportunities to attack Gore on Wednesday. The cordial dialogue between the two men left many observers wondering if they were watching the makings of a Democratic presidential ticket.
"This was not even a debate. Bill Bradley in effect was saying 'It's over, I'm not going to attack,'" The New Yorker's Joe Klein said Wednesday on CNN's Larry King Live. "The biggest question is: 'Can you have a vice president that tall?'"
Of course, such a scenario is contingent upon Bradley's exit from the race. Although he trails Gore by a margin of at least 2-to-1 in most states, Bradley continues to deny media reports that campaign aides are urging him to pack it up and head home
"Mark Twain put it best when he said, 'Reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated,"' Bradley told reporters before the debate.
When asked during the debate about his statement last week pledging to support Gore if he wins the nomination, he replied: "I don't think that it was a concession to the inevitable."
His rhetoric indicated otherwise. There were no verbal barrages on racial profiling, affirmative action, gun control or any of the other issues the candidates easily traded barbs on during last week's rancorous debate at New York's Apollo Theater.
Instead, there was quite a bit of agreement on issue after issue. Both candidates pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold civil rights legislation and abortion rights.
Bradley -- who has repeatedly charged that Gore has a "conservative congressional record" on abortion -- smiled when Gore used the issue to distinguish himself and Bradley from Republican rivals George W. Bush and John McCain, who both oppose abortion.
"Both Governor Bush and Senator McCain are as anti-choice as you can get," Gore said.
Both candidates also called for stricter gun control measures in response to a question regarding Monday's shooting incident in Michigan in which a 6-year boy killed a classmate.
Although Bradley has repeatedly argued that his plan -- which calls for the registration of all existing handguns -- is stronger and more comprehensive than Gore's proposal, he refrained from attacking the vice president on the issue Wednesday night.
Both the vice president and Bradley voiced opposition to California's Proposition 187, a voter-approved but court-rejected ballot measure that attempted to prevent the state from providing public services to illegal immigrants.
The most heated point of contention was over rising oil and gasoline prices. Bradley called on the Clinton Administration to release some of the federal government's strategic oil reserves to ease tight supplies and high prices.
"Frankly, we can get much more done on this the less we talk about it in public," Gore countered, adding that the administration has not ruled out the possibility of releasing the reserves.
On the stump in recent days, the vice president has largely ignored Bradley and
campaigned as if he were already the Democratic presidential nominee. After the debate, Gore insisted that he was not being overconfident.
"I'm not taking a single vote for granted. The fact is there are more delegates to be selected this coming Tuesday than ever in the history of presidential nomination campaigns," Gore said.
But even the vice president couldn't help but refer to the Democratic presidential race in the past tense.
"I think the competition has been good for me and perhaps more importantly for our democracy," Gore said.