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Gore, Bradley prepare for face-to-face meeting

October 26, 1999
Web posted at: 6:31 p.m. EDT (2231 GMT)

HANOVER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Voters will get their first real side-by-side look at former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore on Wednesday when the two participate in a "town hall" meeting at Dartmouth College.

The hour-long meeting is sponsored by CNN and New Hampshire's WMUR. Bradley and Gore have appeared separately at other events but this is the first face-to-face meeting since the 2000 Democratic presidential campaign began.

David Broder, the long-time political columnist for The Washington Post, said a lot is at stake for the two men as it will offer them their biggest audience since they started running.

"Having spent last weekend out talking to voters, people don't know much about these candidates at this point. This is really their first opportunity to begin to define themselves for the folks who will be voting on them," he said.

The race between Gore and Bradley for the Democratic nomination has been heating up lately. After the latest Federal Election Commission reports showed Bradley raising slightly more money than Gore, the vice president declared himself the underdog and began to take on Bradley, abandoning his previous strategy of ignoring Bradley and focusing on the GOP front-runner, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

The tactical change has appeared to have had some effects. Gore has slightly increased his lead over Bradley in a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

"You know, I've said for so long the polls don't matter, I can't take much satisfaction from it," Gore said Tuesday but the new poll mattered enough to the Gore staff to pass out copies of it.

Gore aides say the numbers are improving because voters now see Gore on the loose, freed of vice presidential restraints.

"I'm enjoying it a lot more, but you know the old cliche' is the only poll that matters is when people go do the voting," he said.

Gore challenged Bradley to a debate a week a few weeks ago in Iowa. Bradley didn't react then and has ignored Gore's attacks on him since then. But Bradley also warned a few days ago that basketball players know you only take so much elbowing. Bradley spent 10 seasons in the NBA with the New York Knicks.

But one political observer warns that getting low-down might not work.

"It would look like the very thing people aren't looking for this year from either party. Two politicians fighting out their own battles instead of fighting over how to solve people's problems," said political consultant Mary Ann Marsh.

The problem for Gore is that backing off from recent attacks on Bradley would be backing off from a strategy that has coincided with the first rise in his poll numbers in months

However, the nature of the encounter between Gore and Bradley at Dartmouth's Moore Theatre will work against any temptation for the candidates to brawl

This forum is set up as a town hall meeting in which the candidates will field questions from the audience. It also the first time in which two politicians -- who voted alike three-quarters of the time when they were in the Senate together --- will try side-by-side to show how different they are.

Gore is likely to criticize Bradley's old positions in favor of Ronald Reagan's budget cuts for example and slam Bradley's new, very expensive proposals on health care and poverty.

Bradley could accuse the vice president of not putting a price tag on his spending plans while not thinking big enough and being a prisoner of the Beltway. Marsh sees Bradley as having an advantage.

"Bill Bradley, I think, walks into this debate with a distinct advantage," she said. "Remember, when people vote for president, they vote the person. Al Gore did not spend the better part of this year outlining his personal story, as Bill Bradley did. Consequently, now when he's on the attack, not only do voters not like that, they don't believe him at this point. They're more likely to believe Bradley's rebuttals to those attacks "

Bradley spent Tuesday in another New Hampshire city, Claremont, to push for campaign finance reform. He was accompanied by Doris Haddock, an 89-year-old New Hampshire woman who is walking from California to Washington D.C., 10 miles a day, 2,300 miles so far, for campaign finance reform.

Claremont is the same town where President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich met in 1995, shook hands and agreed to create a bipartisan commission to recommend ways to reform campaign financing. But the commission never came into being.

"What we have to do is allow the people to set the agenda for this country and not the special interests through campaign finance reform," Bradley said.

Polls don't show campaign finance reform as a popular issue, but in New Hampshire, Bradley is doing well.

"We are seeing in the numbers he is ahead, but the depth of his support is not as great as it could be, so I think what is going to happen is, they're going to take a look at him and compare him to Gore and see where it all plays out," said New Hampshire pollster Dick Bennett.

CNN's Candy Crowley, Bill Delaney and Bruce Morton contributed to this report.


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