Bill Press analysis: Bradley edges Gore
By BILL PRESS
October 28, 1999
Web posted at: 4:05 p.m. EDT (2005 GMT)
It's a good thing for Al Gore that any American with good sense was watching the last game of the World Series Wednesday night, instead of the New Hampshire town meeting.
I'm one of those with no good sense. I watched the entire Gore/Bradley exchange. And I believe Bill Bradley carried the night.
To be fair, there was no clear winner, and no clear loser. Neither Gore nor Bradley made a serious mistake. Both came across very knowledgeable, very relaxed, very well prepared, very caring, and very -- if you please -- presidential potential.
But, as a former debate coach, I give Bill Bradley the higher score because he appeared more comfortable in his skin; because he never lost his concentration, despite constant needling by Gore; and because he answered each question directly with a passion that often reached eloquence. And, of course, because he finally took off those stupid reading glasses that make him look like a geeky professor.
I rate Al Gore in close, but second, place because he often seemed to be giving rehearsed answers, rather than responding to the question directly; because he sounded too technical or too bureaucratic in his responses; and, over all, because he just seemed to be trying too hard.
Both Bradley and Gore had their good moments, and their not-so-good.
Bradley's best moment was when he spoke forcefully about the insanity of the Clinton-Gore position of "Don't ask, don't tell." Of course, gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, Bradley asserted. Interestingly, Bradley's passionate defense of gay rights was the biggest applause line of the night.
Bradley's weakest moments came when he failed to show any fire. Not once. Not even when Gore, apparently, misrepresented his position on East Timor. Nor when Gore repeatedly accused him of wanting to blow the entire non-Social Security surplus on his bloated heath reform plan. Nor when invited to slam 1996 fundraising shenanigans by Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
Al Gore was at his best when he stopped trying to play Vice-President and simply let himself be Al Gore. He disarmed everybody by admitting that one of the biggest mistakes he ever made was claiming to be the father of the Internet, then cleverly proceeded to outline why, in fact, he probably deserves the title. He was at his most eloquent when explaining how disillusioned he once was with politics, after returning from Vietnam.
But I found Gore's answers were often too crowded, trying to squeeze too much into too little time. Even on subjects he owns -- like mental health, the environment and ending the growing disparity between rich and poor -- Gore's responses were so muddled they left audience members scratching their heads.
All in all, it was a fascinating hour with great insights into both Al Gore and Bill Bradley. The best news is, there'll be lots more. But next time, hopefully, candidates will be able to challenge each other directly and make quick rebuttals. This format was too staged. More spontaneity would be more interesting and a better test of the candidates' real stuff.
Bill Press is co-host of CNN's "Crossfire."