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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Bradley and Gore slam each other at the Apollo

Former United States Sen. Bill Bradley hammered Vice President Al Gore repeatedly in Monday night's Democratic debate at the Apollo Theater in New York City, but the vice president gave as good as he got. In the process, both men gave the Republicans plenty of ammunition for the general election.

The atmosphere at the Apollo was electric, with protesters chanting outside and celebrities like filmmaker Spike Lee, former football star Calvin Hill, and political activist Al Sharpton forced to push their way through the crowds and police barricades.

Once inside the theater, they were made to file through security "mags" and to turn their cell phones and pagers on and off. The crowd resembled a cross between a sporting event and a political rally, complete with dozens of stern-looking security personnel with ear pieces and pins in their lapels.

Bradley, who has made race a major topic of concern in his presidential campaign, accused Gore of voting to extend tax deductions for private schools that discriminate and for attempting to eliminate affirmative action.

He repeatedly emphasized the need for "strong leadership" on African-American issues, and referred often to Gore's "conservative record" as a member of Congress.

Gore countered by asking the former New Jersey senator why he voted against expanding the number of black-owned television stations. The vice president tried to turn the former senator's aggressiveness against him a couple of times by charging that Bradley was "sounding desperate" and was making "personal attack after personal attack."

But he went even further. At one point, he charged that the Congressional Black Caucus's "brothers and sisters in New Jersey said that you were never with them walking the walk."

For all the charges and counter-charges, it's far from clear that all of Bradley's tough talk will be enough to deny Gore a series of important victories in the March 7 Democratic presidential primaries.

Bradley's campaign has been gasping for air since he lost the New Hampshire primary and saw the national media virtually abandon his campaign in order to focus all of their attention on the GOP contest between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

Bradley hasn't yet made the kinds of inroads into the African American community that he hoped to -- or that he needs to if he has any chance of overtaking the vice president in the Democratic race. The Apollo Theater debate gave him an opportunity to take on Gore.

Both sides claimed victory after the debate, inundating the press room with supporters like Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, former New York City mayor David Dinkins and entertainer Whoopie Goldberg. One of the spinners described himself as a "rising star" of New Jersey politics, while others simply rambled on and on while reporters on deadline ignored them.

But the big winner of the night may have been the GOP.

Bradley and Gore went out of their way to appeal to the overwhelmingly black audience, and in so doing ended up playing up their liberal positions and credentials. Both candidates refused to support reparations for the black community or an end to the death penalty, but the setting, the crowd and many of the questions forced them to appear to pander to the liberal crowd.


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Monday, February 21, 2000

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