TOPICS > Politics

Waiting in Washington

February 28, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPOKESMAN: Senator Bradley is a friend of the union, and he brought us some doughnuts. (Cheers and applause)

GWEN IFILL: A funny thing happened on the way to Super Tuesday. The two men competing for the Democratic Party nomination, overshadowed by an unexpectedly lively Republican race, are suddenly in love with the Pacific Northwest.

AL GORE: I want your vote and your support so I can fight for you; I want to fight for your family, I want to fight for your community, I want to fight for Washington State and the future of the United States.

GWEN IFILL: Appearing at competing chili suppers, Gore with Democratic elected officials. Bradley, dishing it up at a bar in downtown Seattle.

BILL BRADLEY: You know, there is another event that the party establishment is at, eating chili on the other side of town. I decided I would come to pioneer square and serve the people’s chili to all of you.

GWEN IFILL: The two Democrats have turned this off-the-beaten-path primary into a party showdown. This could be Bill Bradley’s last stand. He chose this battlefield after losing to Gore in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now, Bradley’s looking for momentum anywhere he can get it– even in Washington State, where Tuesday’s primary is strictly for show. Delegates won’t be picked until separate party caucuses a week later. Blair Butterworth, a Democratic political consultant here, says Bradley must compete here if he hopes to survive.

BLAIR BUTTERWORTH: I don’t think he has a choice. If he let Washington State go by, and the Vice President won here, and he entered the big 7th of March series, East and West Coast, without any kind of momentum, without any kind of victory under his belt, I don’t think there’d be anybody who would think that he would have a chance of winning.

GWEN IFILL: Butterworth says for Bradley, the point is to prove that he can win somewhere.

SPOKESMAN: Senator Bill Bradley, Senator from New Jersey and Democratic candidate for President in Seattle beginning a full-court press in Washington State as we lead up to the primary.

BLAIR BUTTERWORTH: It’s sort of like hunting. When you are a hunter, and you bag one, you hold it up and say, “by God, I’m a hunter and here’s the dead bird to prove it.” And so Washington is the potential dead bird for all these hunters. He can go then to California and New York and to the people who give him money and to his organization and to his true believers and to the press, and say, “by God, I did it; I beat the vice president – you see, it can be done.”

BILL BRADLEY: The independent voter of Washington is going to determine who should be the next President of the United States.

GWEN IFILL: For Bradley, it’s a slingshot strategy: Try to get some attention here and hope to reap the benefits a week later in the 16-state super primary, when nearly one-third of the national Democratic convention delegates will be chosen.

BILL BRADLEY: It still means that the delegates are going to be fought out in places like New York, New England, Missouri, California, Maryland. We continue to go on to March 7 because that’s the decisive day. We have to take off that day. We need to win a some primaries that day.

GWEN IFILL: But even some Bradley supporters are worried that he is putting too much on the line here. For Bradley’s plan to work, he wants to sell himself as the true liberal reformer while painting Al Gore as a closet conservative.

BILL BRADLEY: My opponent has a little different background. You know him as the Vice President of the United States in the Clinton administration implementing Bill Clinton’s policies. But you don’t know him as the conservative Congressman, particularly social conservative he was in Congress and in the Senate. It’s a matter of knowing where he was in the past, and that might explain to you why now I’m the only candidate who wants access to quality health care, quality, affordable health care in America for all Americans. He’s not there yet. I’m the only one who’s laid out a gun registration and licensing for all handguns. He’s not there yet.

AL GORE: Let’s get on with the task of winning the election for working people in this country.

GWEN IFILL: But Gore has been sailing above it all– his crowds more raucous, his speeches more energized. He scarcely even mentions Bradley, reserving his attacks for Republicans McCain and George W. Bush instead.

AL GORE: There is a clear and stark contrast between what we stand for and what we’ve done, and what they stand for and what they’ve done. Instead of the biggest deficit, we’ve got the biggest surpluses in history – instead of the worst recession, we’ve got the strongest economy in the entire history of the United States of America, 20 million new jobs in America, lowest African-American unemployment in history, lowest Latino unemployment in history, highest private home ownership in history, higher standards of living in history, higher wages. We are moving in the right direction.

GWEN IFILL: Washington State has voted for underdogs before: Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown. But this year even Jerry Brown is endorsing Al Gore this year, and Bradley finds himself battling the hot new kid on the block, who is, of all things, a Republican. That would be John McCain. McCain, who rechristened the Puget Sound ferry, the “U.S.S. Straight Talk,” last week, is generating new excitement here and drained Bradley’s independent support. Now even Washington State Congressman Jim McDermott, who is supporting Bradley, worries that McCain may be his candidate’s undoing.

REP. JIM McDERMOTT: He’s his real enemy. Al Gore’s not his real enemy. His enemy is John McCain because he’ll get a certain number of Democrats. But the big fight in this state is for the 40 percent who are independents.

GWEN IFILL: Even voters who come out to Bradley rallies wax enthusiastic about McCain.

DARIN SCHEER: I think he’s a straight shooter. I mean, I really do. I think he knows what he believes. I don’t even necessarily agree with everything that he believes, just like Senator Bradley, but I feel like we know where he stands. I really am tired of seven years now of wishy-washiness. I’m absolutely frustrated with poll-driven politics.

GWEN IFILL: How do you break through that love affair, this swoon which is going on with John McCain?

BILL BRADLEY: First, I am the reformer on the Democratic side, equally if not more the reformer — but then to point out that there are these differences. Many of the independent voters you talk to are pro-choice. John McCain isn’t. They’re pro gun control in this state. John McCain isn’t. They really want to protect the environment. He has like a 20 percent League of Conservation voting record. They want major investments in education and health. He doesn’t make them.

CROWD CHANTING: We want Al, we want Al!

GWEN IFILL: McCain’s strength may be hurting Bradley, but nationally, the biggest threat to his political future remains the popular vice president. So in every speech, Bradley tries to raise doubts about the vice president.

BILL BRADLEY: He had an 84 percent right to life voting record in the Congress…84 percent right to life voting record. The head of a major abortion rights group said he once voted for a bill that was the first step toward criminalizing abortion. He was referred to by the head of the NRA recently about his career in the Congress as being the poster boy for the NRA. On education, health care, well, he introduced four education bills in 16 years; I introduced 37. He introduced zero health care bills to expand health care. In 1993, he said I am with Bill Clinton, so I am now for national health insurance. He’s now on his own, and he says it’s too difficult to do. He says, I’m for it, remember, I’m for it, but not now.

GWEN IFILL: Sometimes, it works.

KRISTEN LENHART: I need to go back and reevaluate Gore. I thought his comments on Gore’s past voting history and his criticisms toward that really make me think about Gore in a different way. I need to go back and see what his record really was and if that’s something I want to support.

AL GORE: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: But Bradley was outflanked on the abortion issue when the National Abortion Rights Action League endorsed Gore.

AL GORE: I am deeply honored by your endorsement and by your support. I know that this was… that this was kind of an unusual decision in a contested primary where both of the candidates are pro-choice.

GWEN IFILL: And Gore not ceding ground on the environment either. The campaign’s latest ad features Gore’s father-son hiking trip up Washington’s Mount Rainier last summer.

AD SPOKESMAN: But you get to know somebody in the mountains, how they react to pressure, how they handle adversity, and we had a very tough climb, terrible conditions. A lot of people turned back. But Al, he didn’t want to quit. He wanted to try to get to the top. And we made it safely.

GWEN IFILL: Frank Greer, a media strategist in the 1992 Clinton campaign, now lives in Washington State. A Gore supporter, he believes Bradley has spent too much time criticizing Gore, too little time defining himself.

FRANK GREER: All of a sudden, Bradley lost that message, and instead, he started running to the left and trying to explain that Gore was too much in the center. Well, the interesting thing we learned in 1992 with Bill Clinton, the center, the dynamic center, is where the votes are. And McCain is drawing from that center as well. And McCain took all of the votes and I think the excitement away from Bradley.

AL GORE: Here in Washington state my opponent has been in the primary has been attacking me by calling me a conservative. The former head of the Christian Coalition has warned that with Al Gore in the administration there is a real liberal in the White House. Well, you know, one attacks me as too conservative, and then the Christian Coalition says I’m too liberal. I must be doing something rights. (Laughter) (applause)

GWEN IFILL: Washington State Party Chairman Paul Berendt, a Gore supporter, has been scolding Bradley for taking the Vice President on.

PAUL BERENDT: This is the way I see this race. If Bill Bradley cannot win in the state of Washington, he’s going to have a hard time winning anyplace. He has pulled out all the stops — using negative advertising, negative mailings and every means possible. I believe this is his Waterloo. If he cannot win here, his campaign will fail.

GWEN IFILL: Bradley, of course doesn’t see things quite this way. What others see as his last gasp, he sees as another in a series of opportunities.

GWEN IFILL: So, Senator, is this your last stand?

BILL BRADLEY: Absolutely not. This is the beginning of the takeoff.

GWEN IFILL: It’s only the landing that’s in doubt.