Into the Stretch
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BILL BRADLEY: Come on, let’s play a little game.
GWEN IFILL: This is what an underdog looks like. Or is it? Bill Bradley, the former basketball star, former U.S. senator, former college lecturer, has one day left to make his mark in New Hampshire.
BILL BRADLEY: Is everybody ready to work? Does everybody know we’re going to win? What?
BILL BRADLEY: It can happen. Thank you. (Cheers and applause)
GWEN IFILL: His task is a formidable one because his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, knows a thing or two about running in New Hampshire.
AL GORE: And keep America going for the 21st century. Thank you. (Cheers and applause) we’re going to go shake some hands down the sidewalk here.
GWEN IFILL: Gore ran unsuccessfully for president once, successfully for vice president twice, but this time he’s in a suddenly hot race.
AL GORE: Thank you for coming out.
GWEN IFILL: For the past several days, polls have shown Bradley closing in on the vice president. The turnaround came when Bradley, the self-described unconventional candidate, took a politically conventional route. He went on the attack.
BILL BRADLEY: He has made misleading statements about my health care plan. I corrected him three times in public forums. He persisted in making the same misstatement. And also, he’s running away from his own record on abortion. And so I have to acknowledge those things. But ultimately, you have to take care of yourself. I’m a big guy. I can take care of myself. So that’s what we’re doing now. But the main reason that I’m trying to do politics in a new way is because I think that’s the only way that we’re going to get big things done again for our country.
GWEN IFILL: Is abortion an issue that can really be a cutting issue among voters?
BILL BRADLEY: Um, I don’t know, quite frankly. I think it’s an issue that’s important to many people. It’s an issue that’s important to people on both sides. And I’ve always been pro-choice. I’ve been that way throughout my whole life. I have deep respect for those who have a different view than I because I know they hold deep religious convictions. And in this campaign, the question was, “How did Al Gore go from an 84 percent right-to-life record when he was in Congress to being pro-choice?” I’m glad he made that evolution, but I think he needs to tell us what was the moral — what was the journey that he made to get to this change.
GWEN IFILL: Gore responds that he has always favored abortion rights, that he only questioned for a time whether the federal government should pay for it.
GWEN IFILL: Is it worth battling Bill Bradley back charge for charge?
AL GORE: Well, I’m not going to get down to the level of personal attacks. I never have, and I never will. I simply, I haven’t even mentioned him in my ads. I have mentioned some of the proposals and differences on the issues. Again, I think that’s healthy, and I’ll continue doing that. I think that is worthwhile, but I’m not going to respond in kind to some of the things that he’s said. I just don’t — I don’t like that way of campaigning. I don’t really think that voters do either. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think they do.
GWEN IFILL: That was Saturday. By Sunday, Gore’s tune changed.
AL GORE: I am proudly pro-choice, and Senator Bradley knows it. And I believe the people of New Hampshire are not going to be fooled by Senator Bradley’s last-minute, manipulative, negative, politics-as-usual campaign.
GWEN IFILL: This suddenly close race has taken both sides a little bit by surprise. First Vice President Gore was the front-runner, trying to stay above the fray. Bill Bradley was struggling to overcome a resounding defeat in Iowa. But just like the weather in New Hampshire, things can change fast. Dayton Duncan, a New Hampshire resident and Gore supporter who worked for Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988, has been monitoring the shifting political winds this year.
DAYTON DUNCAN: About a week before the Iowa caucuses, the momentum seemed to me to shift toward Vice President Gore. But one thing I know about the New Hampshire primary, is that there is an overwhelming number of people who literally don’t decide until the last few days, and anyone who thinks they know what is going to happen in New Hampshire is usually wrong.
GWEN IFILL: As the campaign heats up, both Bradley and Gore are in pursuit of the same small pool of undecided voters.
BILL BRADLEY: People say you’re never going to provide health insurance for everybody in America, never, never, never — never has happened, never will happen — but we will in a world of new possibilities guided by goodness. People say we’re never going to keep this economy growing, this productivity increase, this incredible growth rate, the wealth creation that’s going on in America, and at the same time move working families up that ladder so that their children know that they’ll have a higher standard of living than their parents because that’s the promise of America fulfilled through yet another generation. But in a world of new possibilities, both of those things can happen, and one follows the other like the morning follows the night.
GWEN IFILL: People like Sheryl Loscola, a worker at a shoe and clothing factory Bradley visited, are making up their minds and then changing them.
SHERYL LOSCOLA: I was going to vote for Gore until I came down today. I listened to everything that Bradley had to say. It was refreshing. I have listened to a few of the political candidates that have come here, and everything seems very canned and, you know, “This is my speech and I’m going to deliver that message.” So I have a great deal of respect for him. And I think that’s got the right values – you know — to deliver a good presidency. So I’m going to switch.
AL GORE: Thank you very much.
GWEN IFILL: Other voters, drawn to the countless town meetings held around the state, have switched to Gore. So you came today out of curiosity. And what did you come away learning?
SIMON WEATHERILL: I am more impressed with Gore than I have been previously.
LYNNE WEATHERILL: I thought it was great how everything was off the cuff. I mean, he didn’t have any notes, and he wasn’t stilted at all in his answers. He just seemed to have the information in his head and respond very, you know, respectfully and appropriately when people asked all kinds of questions.
AL GORE: Good to see you.
MAN: Thank you, sir.
WOMAN IN CROWD: You have to hear this. – The children called because there were police outside our door. Unbelievable — there’s 20 people walking down the street.
GWEN IFILL: Gore has the obvious advantages, not the least of them familiarity, political lineage, and ties to a president still popular within his own party.
GWEN IFILL: Did the State of the Union speech help you?
AL GORE: I don’t know. I don’t know. My guess is not, just because it’s his, it’s the president’s speech, and I, you know, don’t think there’s any great talent to sitting up there. (Laughs) I don’t think the people vote for somebody on the basis of the job they have held. I think people give me credit for doing a good job as vice president, but I think they know that that job is very different from the job of president. And I think that I started gaining some more support, not because I was better at communicating what I’d done as vice president, but when I became better at communicating what I want to do as president.
AL GORE: Thank you.
GWEN IFILL: Still, Gore can make a connection Bradley cannot. He can and does claim part of the credit for the nation’s robust economy.
AL GORE: I say if we do things right, we’ve only just begun to prosper in America. If we balance the budget every year and pay down the national debt every year, we’ve only just begun to prosper in America. If we invest the surplus wisely instead of blowing it, we’ve only just begun to prosper in America. If we move toward universal health care the right way, we’ve only just begun to prosper in America. If we help families afford college, we have only just begun to prosper in America.
BRADLEY SUPPORTER: Good luck, Bill.
GWEN IFILL: But Bradley is also attracting independent voters who can switch parties right up until election day. Political scientist Dean Speliotis of Dartmouth College.
GWEN IFILL: How important is that independent vote here?
DEAN SPELIOTIS: I think it has the possibility of being particularly important this time around. Usually independent voter turnout is somewhat lower than declared party members, maybe somewhere around 30 percent, but this time, because both races are exciting, McCain and Bradley both as sort of outside, reform-oriented insurgents, a little more excitement for independents, and the idea that they might be able to tip the balance in one of the two races I think will increase turnout, provided the weather cooperates.
GWEN IFILL: Bradley’s goal during this primary campaign’s final days: To paint Gore as untrustworthy on bedrock Democratic issues — abortion rights, health care and campaign finance reform.
BILL BRADLEY: If you don’t trust the people to tell the truth in a campaign, then you don’t trust the people to tell you the truth when you are president of the United States?
GWEN IFILL: But do voters want to hear charges and countercharges? Ronnie Robinson, a nurse from Lebanon, New Hampshire, told Gore no.
RONNIE ROBINSON: When you put out a good idea and you try to fight and get legislation for it, it ends up being voted down party lines and the left fights the right — the Cowboys versus the Indians.
AL GORE: Right.
RONNIE ROBINSON: We’re past this and we’re wasting time on important issues. One question is: What can be done to change that?
AL GORE: I think that the main pause on the problems that you’re identifying is not so much that we have different parties and not so much that we have a two-party system, it is rather that we have allowed a level of partisanship to creep into our politics that is excessive and dangerous.
GWEN IFILL: For months, it seemed there was little difference between the two Democrats. Both cut their political teeth in Washington. Both came from their party’s liberal wing. But both are determined to prove that the choice between them is very clear. Tuesday’s New Hampshire results may be critical, but for Bradley, who still has millions of dollars in the bank, the race is far from over.
BILL BRADLEY: But just remember, the game isn’t over until the game is over. And we want to make sure that at the end of that game we’re on top. Let’s go!
GWEN IFILL: In the final hours, Bradley and Gore are looking for any advantage. At last night’s Super Bowl, it was Al Gore’s Tennessee Titans against Bill Bradley’s St. Louis Rams.
AL GORE: So we decided to take a few hours off to watch the Super Bowl. Then we’re going right back out there and win the primary.
GWEN IFILL: For what it’s worth, St. Louis won.