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 TIME on politics TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and TIME

Gore, Bradley clash on campaign finance, gays in the military

January 5, 2000
Web posted at: 9:56 p.m. EST (0256 GMT)

DURHAM, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley opened a whirlwind week- and-a-half of presidential debates Wednesday night in the university town of Durham, New Hampshire, where for an hour the two challenged each other over campaign finance, gays in the military, and the notions of political leadership and experience.

Bradley and Gore met at the University of New Hampshire in the state that will hold the first primary of the campaign on February 1  

Gore and Bradley ascended the stage of the University of New Hampshire's Johnson Theater, and with little in the way of formality immediately began their bout with a discussion of President Bill Clinton's conduct through the entirety of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The focus of their answers to the Clinton question -- which was posed by a reporter from New Hampshire's staunchly conservative Union Leader newspaper -- focused on the qualities of leadership.

The notion of leadership became a recurring theme as the event progressed.

"Anytime the president lies, he undermines his authority and squanders the public's trust," Bradley said, adding that he believed Gore, in his role as vice president, likely had no choice but to stand behind Clinton.

"The vice president was the vice president," Bradley said. "He was not critical of the president."

Gore said that though the president's actions were indefensible, he needed to act to defend the "office of the president" from "partisan Republicans" bent on a "thoroughly disproportionate penalty" for Clinton's actions.

Bradley and Gore clashed repeatedly on the differences between leadership and experience, with each acknowledging that their multiple years in government, including overlapping terms in the Senate, amounted to significant experience.

Nonetheless, Bradley slammed Gore for his ability to lead, saying Gore's proposed social agenda would do little for the working poor, who he said are not benefiting from record prosperity during the Clinton-Gore administration.

"The challenge of this time is to take our unprecedented prosperity and turn it to the benefit of those left behind," Bradley said. "That's what (kind) of leadership is required in this country."

But Gore countered Bradley's attempts to take the high road on social issues a number of times throughout the evening, saying Bradley's massive social aid agenda, which includes a proposal to re-write the federal Medicare and Medicaid insurance systems, was faulty.

"(Bradley's) plans do not save a penny for Medicare, and do not include comprehensive education reform," the vice president said.

Bradley accused Gore of repeatedly misrepresenting his plans to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid, alleging that Gore had purposefully miscast his health insurance proposals by trying to frighten minorities.

"You have said that I am going to destroy Medicaid without saying what I plan to replace it with. (Your assertions) that my plan would hurt African Americans and Latinos have offended me," Bradley said, confronting the vice president.

Medicaid is the federal health insurance system that provides treatment coverage for those with little or no regular income.

"I am going to replace Medicaid with something better," Bradley continued. "Some 40 percent of minorities do not have coverage (under Medicaid). They would be covered."

Gore stood by his long-standing criticism of the Bradley health plan, asserting he believes it is too big and unwieldy to adequately cover the full spectrum of the population. He coined a Harry Truman witticism to make his point.

"I'm not giving him hell," the vice president said. "I'm telling the truth, and he thinks its hell."

Gore also took the initiative on the issue of campaign finance, which Bradley has called his own since a joint appearance with GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona in December.

Gore said he supports full public financing of political campaigns and an elimination of "soft money" political contributions, and he challenged Bradley to drop the 30- second television spots he has been running in New Hampshire.

"I think we should eliminate the dollars that go to television ads and debate twice a week," Gore said, adding that he would be willing to drop TV ads in New Hampshire, where Bradley leads Gore in most polls of potential Democratic voters.

"Polls in New Hampshire show that you are ahead," Gore said directly to Bradley. "I am asking the people of New Hampshire to give me a come-from-behind, upset victory here."

Bradley scoffed at the proposal, saying that though he champions a full-scale reform of the campaign finance system, television ads will be key to his success nationwide, because he is not as well-known as the vice president.

"If you want to get into people's living rooms, you have to get into their living rooms," Bradley argued, before saying to Gore, "Your come-from-behind underdog speech brings tears to my eyes."

Gore responded, "I hope my come-from-behind underdog victory brings tears to your eyes."

On the issue of whether gays who serve in the military should be accorded the opportunity to disclose their sexuality free of scrutiny or consequence, Gore said he was not in favor of the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and anyone he appointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be required to support a policy similar to Truman's moves to integrate the military after World War II.

"I would insist that any individual I appoint support my policy," he said.

Bradley said he would move toward placing gays in the military, but he would not necessarily expect anyone on the Joint Chiefs to question his leadership. He would only expect his orders to be carried out.

"When you're president, you're commander-in-chief. You issue orders. And soldiers are good soldiers, and they follow those orders."

Pundits, journalists and scores of Democratic Party operatives flooded into Durham on Wednesday for this first presidential debate of the year 2000.

The debate launches a series of candidate forums in the course of the next few days. A Republican debate is set for Durham Thursday evening, followed by another GOP debate in Columbia, South Carolina, on Friday; a Democratic debate Saturday in Johnston, Iowa; and a New Hampshire Republican Party "Salute to the Next President" dinner Sunday, to be attended by all six Republican hopefuls.

Gore, bolstered by the endorsement of influential Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy earlier in the day, spent much of Monday readying himself for an expected intense exchange with Bradley, who has steadily gained formidable support among New Hampshire Democrats the last two months.

Bradley spent the early portion of the day granting radio interviews in the Boston area and appearing with his wife Ernestine at a health clinic. Later in the day, the couple appeared at a women's rally, where they touted the endorsement of the former senator by a number of abortion- rights organizations.

The Wednesday debate was the fourth for Gore and Bradley in the 2000 election season. The event was sponsored by New Hampshire Public Television, the New England Cable Network, and the Union Leader. It was moderated by ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, and questions were posed by a panel of three New Hampshire journalists.

The Union Leader reported Wednesday a sudden surge of media interest in the Wednesday debate. Some 280 news organizations were sending reporters to the event, surprising the debate's organizers, the newspaper said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, which was written by Ian Christopher McCaleb.


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