In town meeting, Gore criticizes Clinton behavior, Bradley defends Senate retirement
October 27, 1999
Web posted at: 11:12 p.m. EDT (0312 GMT)
HANOVER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Vice President Al Gore and former Senator Bill Bradley used their first face-to-face session of the 2000 presidential campaign as a friendly get-to-know-me meeting Wednesday night, although Gore faced pointed questions about President Bill Clinton's personal behavior and Bradley was quizzed on his decision to leave the Senate.
The town meeting forum, sponsored by CNN and Manchester, New Hampshire television station WMUR, offered few surprises but did occasionally let the candidates draw subtle differences between one another. In perhaps the evening's strongest statement, Gore gave a measured but strong criticism of Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
"I understand the disappointment and anger you felt toward President Clinton. I feel it myself. I also feel that the American people want to move on and turn the page and focus on the future, not the past," said Gore. (216K wav file)
Former Sen. Bill Bradley
"He's my friend. I took an oath under the Constitution to serve my country through thick and thin and I interpreted that oath to mean that I ought to try and provide as much continuity and civility ... as I possibly could." (232K wav file)
Gore aides called the evening a "home run," saying the vice president made a break through in "showing who he is."
Bradley's camp also declared victory in the informal debate, saying their candidate connected with the audience in a "direct, simple and clear way," as one aide said.
The former senator from New Jersey repeatedly defended his decision to leave Washington in 1997 -- a decision Gore has criticized with some success in recent weeks.
"I engaged outside of Washington in a dialogue with the American people about where they saw their lives and where they'd like to take this country," said Bradley.
From the beginning of the event, it was clear that this forum would not be a traditional debate.
First, the two candidates came out nearly 15 minutes before their planned 8 p.m. EDT starting time and immediately took questions from the audience, even before the moderators arrived on stage. Also, all of the questions came from and were delivered by the audience.
The rules called for no formal rebuttals, but the candidates were allowed to use some of their time to respond to specific allegations made by their opponent and both Gore and Bradley did so frequently.
There were no podiums on the stage in the intimate auditorium and audience members sat both in front and behind the two Democrats. The candidates sat on stools when they were not answering questions and walked around the stage as they responded.
The result was a good-natured exchange of ideas, although there was a little conflict. "Let's have a good one," Bradley said to Gore shortly before the televised portion of the debate began, as he shook the vice president's hand. "You, too," Gore responded.
Vice President Al Gore
"I think there's only one reason to vote for me as opposed to anybody else ... and that is because you think my leadership would improve the quality of life for millions of Americans today," said Bradley. "If you do, I welcome you. I need your vote." (340K wav file)
Gore said he "thought politics would be the absolute last thing I would do with my life" after returning from military service in Vietnam, but that he came to believe politics would allow him to work for the public good.
After the broadcast finished Gore continued to answer questions from the audience for more than an hour as other Washington heavyweights including Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Education Secretary Richard Riley mingled with the press in support of the Gore's agenda.
Bradley's aides noted that the vice president, whose lead in the polls among Democrats had been slipping in recent months, was clearly on the attack Wednesday night.
Many of the night's questions focused on campaign finance reform, health care and gay rights.
Bradley outlined his plan for universal health coverage and challenged Gore's criticism of the costs in the closest thing to direct confrontation during the event. "I dispute the cost figure that Al has used," Bradley said.
On campaign finance reform, Gore said that if elected, "I promise you I will fight my heart out to get meaningful campaign finance reform and get the influence of big money out of the system." Bradley said the reform was one reason he left the Senate -- allowing him to "build a grass roots movement for fundamental campaign finance reform."
Bradley's aides said their candidate avoided attacking Gore on the issue of campaign finance reform because Bradley "has always been about the future ... we can't change the past," referring to the allegations of campaign finance abuses by the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.
Both candidates said they supported various proposals for equal rights for gays, although Bradley called for adding protection from discrimination due to sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Gore said he would not take that step and that it was opposed by some gay rights groups.
"The time has come for gays and lesbians to be recognized within the circle of human dignity," said Gore. Bradley talked at length about his support for gays in the military.
"This is an issue for all of us to think about. I support gays being able to serve openly in the military," he said.
Both men said they supported stronger environmental controls, the nuclear test ban treaty and the measured use of the U.S. military in overseas peacekeeping roles.
In one of the evening's most humorous moments, Gore was asked about his biggest mistake as a politician. He said it was his much-derided claim to have essentially fathered the Internet. "I'm not proud of what I did to try to take too much credit," he said, but he admitted pride in helping to assure federal funding for a predecessor of the Internet. (336K wav file)
An identical forum, featuring all the major Republican candidates except for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, will be held Thursday night.