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Gore Raps Bradley on Caucus Comment

January 21, 2000

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) _ Aiming to rile his own supporters to work harder, Vice President Al Gore suggested to Iowans Thursday that they should be insulted by Bill Bradley’s assessment that the state caucus system ``rewards entrenched power.″

Bradley responded that he was ``absolutely not, absolutely not″ showing disrespect to the state’s Monday precinct caucuses.

Separately, Bradley, a former New Jersey senator, told senior citizens that health care reform is now inevitable because his campaign took ``the risk of leadership″ and restored the issue to the presidential agenda.

Gore campaigned on Iowa’s western border, his voice thundering as he railed against Bradley for spending ``stacks of money″ in Iowa and saturating the airwaves with TV and radio ads only to seemingly dismiss the caucus as an organizational contest that favors Gore.

``My opponent in this Democratic contest has come here _ he’s here today. He came here, asked for your vote, asked for your support and now ... he has evidently developed a new view of the Iowa caucuses,″ Gore told several hundred people gathered in a gymnasium at Iowa Western Community College.

``Well, let me tell you, fighting for people is what the Iowa caucuses are all about! ... Fighting to save Medicare, that’s not entrenched power, that is fighting for people,″ Gore shouted.

Bradley, who trails Gore here even after spending, by the Gore campaign’s count, almost twice as many days in the state, said in New Hampshire Wednesday, ``I think Iowa is a state that rewards entrenched power.″

On a more personal note, Bradley confirmed Thursday that he has suffered four irregular heartbeat episodes since the non-life threatening condition was revealed more than a month ago. Although he characterizes the ailment as a nuisance, a presidential candidate doesn’t want to be facing question about his health days before an election.

Gore and his aides, worried about complacency keeping their supporters home on Monday, seized on the remark as a way to provoke their own team.

Bradley is ``attacking grassroots activists who are playing a very important role in choosing the next president,″ said Steve Hildebrand, Gore’s Iowa campaign director. ``Senator Bradley is doing nothing but firing up our troops to go out and work harder.″

But some union organizers for Gore doubted the potency of this strategy.

Bernie Kinsella, a railroad worker and union caucus coordinator, said he may be insulted by Bradley’s comment but, with only one hour’s sleep in the last 2 1/2 days, ``As far as me working harder for Gore, I don’t know if that’s possible.″

Bradley told reporters he respects Iowans and refused to back down on Gore’s institutional advantages. His aides circulated comments Gore made during his failed 1988 presidential bid, when he described the Iowa contest as ``an arcane procedure that produces crazy results.″

The vice president has the backing of President Clinton, ``most of the Democratic National Committee officialdom and most of the Democratic Party fund-raisers, has the backing of the leadership of organized labor and rides in Air Force II. That is entrenched power,″ Bradley said.

In West Des Moines, Bradley promoted his health care proposal at a forum sponsored by the AARP and claimed credit for a political turnaround since President Clinton tried and failed to overhaul health care at the start of his first term.

``I’ll tell you something, when I laid out my program this was not an issue in the political arena,″ said Bradley. ``It was thought to be impossible to do.″

Beulah Anderson questioned Bradley closely on whether he could push any of his plans through a Congress that hasn’t acted up to now. Bradley took credit for shifting the political climate to make that possible.

``In terms of health, I think there has never been a better opportunity,″ he said. After his plan launched a national debate, ``there have been five or six other major proposals now of how other people might do national health insurance.

``Al Gore isn’t one of them. He wouldn’t do national health insurance.″

Senior citizens make up one of the most important demographic groups in Monday’s precinct caucuses that launch the nominating season. Iowa’s population is the nation’s third-oldest, and studies have shown the elderly vote in greater proportion than other age groups.

While polls show many favor health reforms, there’s some skepticism it can happen, with many pointing to the political furor Clinton’s effort sparked.

``I think it’s a much better opportunity now than in 1993 when Bill Clinton tried to do it and failed,″ said Bradley. He said the number of uninsured has grown since that time, as has cost and there is also increasing restiveness in the medical community.

All that’s combined to shift the political debate, he argued.

Mrs. Anderson said she was won over though ``I still have concerns about Congress.″

Joyce Brown said she was sticking with Gore.

``I didn’t hear anything to make me change my mind,″ Ms. Brown said. ``I’m glad Bradley’s there offering competition because it’s made Gore sharper. Besides, Iowans like a good fight.″