Des Moines Register: Bradley courts Gore constituencies
By David Yepsen/Des Moines Register
December 6, 1999
Web posted at: 11:35 a.m. EST (1635 GMT)
DES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- Former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley and his top strategists believe their campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is going so well they now have an opportunity to defeat Vice President Al Gore in the Iowa caucuses.
Bradley opened a three-day campaign swing through Iowa this weekend. He courted two key Gore constituencies - labor and African-Americans - and fired back at Gore's attacks on his health-care plan.
"We have a lot of work to do," Bradley said. "We're chipping away. We're doing it every day. There are a lot of people who are undecided now. They haven't focused" on the Jan. 24 caucus contest.
On this, his 26th trip to Iowa, Bradley campaigned in heavily Democratic areas of Des Moines, Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids. "Spending two winters in Iowa is easier than spending one winter," he quipped to an audience Saturday night at Gallery Art 316 in Des Moines. He was slated to attend services at predominantly black churches in Waterloo and a student rally at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls Sunday. Today he courts union members by bringing out labor leaders to endorse him.
"The message is, it's OK to be for Bradley despite the AFL-CIO endorsement" of Gore, said one aide. While the AFL-CIO has officially endorsed Gore, the Bradley camp believes there is little enthusiasm among rank and file union members for Gore, and this gives them an opportunity to pick up some support.
"I don't think it's all locked up for Gore" among union members, Bradley said. "People make their own independent judgments in this matter. My approach is going right to the members."
"My case to labor is that I respect them and I respect their role in getting a higher standard of living for people in this country. I was a labor leader myself, and my wife is a labor union member."
Bradley, a former professional basketball player, was in the Players Association, while his wife, a college professor, is a member of the American Federation of Teachers.
Bradley said his record as a U.S. senator on issues important to labor is good, and "the kinds of things I've been talking about are the kinds of things that will improve their lives in terms of increasing the number of people with health insurance, helping those with low incomes, in terms of providing for continuing education and in terms of making it easier to organize."
He has a similar message for Iowa's black community, where Gore has also enjoyed strong support. Improving the nation's racial climate is an important part of Bradley's campaign message. He said he has "a record that shows this is not something I discovered today, but something I've done for 20 years in public life. . . . Race was one of the main reasons I got into politics in the first place."
Bradley was also spending time over the weekend defending his health-care plan, which Gore has criticized as too expensive. Bradley said, "My health-care plan would cover 95 percent of all Americans. It is in the tradition of the Democratic Party to provide access to health care for all Americans. It has been a Democratic principle for as long as I remember. It's a big problem in the country. We have 44 million people without health insurance, and another 45 million are underinsured, and my plan is a big solution to a big problem.
"It's not inexpensive," he said, noting his plan would cost between $55 billion and $65 billion a year. He said that projected federal budget surpluses make it affordable and that savings in new technologies and drugs will lower costs.
Polls of the race show Gore with a comfortable lead over Bradley among Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. In addition to believing many Democrats haven't made a firm decision about whom to support, Bradley's camp also believes that its man can attract many first-time caucus-goers to show up for him and that those people often don't show up in early opinion polls.
As a result, Bradley's frequent campaign trips to Iowa are double-barreled affairs: He always spends time courting traditional Democratic groups and he goes prospecting for newcomers, such as college students. Jim Maloney, the Polk County assessor and a Bradley backer, said Saturday: "He's got a long way to go. I don't think he's well known yet, and he has the entrenched powers against him. I think it'll be very tough, but I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility.
"The only way Bradley's going to win is if he inspires a lot of people to go to caucuses who've never gone before. They're out there. We just have to find them," Maloney said.
John Tapscott, a former Democratic state senator from Des Moines, said he likes Bradley and is seeing many new people showing up at Bradley's events. "If this were a primary election, he'd carry Iowa, no question about it," Tapscott said. "This guy excites me. He's authentic. He's unflappable. He's put the old fire in the belly back in me because he's real."
Bradley aides were encouraged by the results of the art gallery reception. Of the 160 people who signed in, 104 were newcomers who signed up to go to a caucus for Bradley.