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Gore, Bradley Ease Up on Criticism

January 21, 2000

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Vice President Al Gore eased up on rival Bill Bradley Friday. Gone was the fiery rhetoric about ``shredding the social safety net,″ replaced by a concession that Bradley’s health plan is based on ``a respectable theory not to be dismissed out of hand.″

``Although I do dismiss it,″ Gore added, apparently unable to pull every punch as his aides had advised on a day of fresh questions about Bradley’s heart condition.

``My understanding is that it’s nothing serious,″ Gore told reporters, who asked during a hospital tour if the vice president was worried about Bradley after Thursday’s disclosure that he had had four recent episodes of an irregular heartbeat.

``He’s out there campaigning. That’s the good news. It’s a routine matter,″ Gore said as he knelt with Mercy Medical Center asthma patient Shelby Clasin, 2, and her twin stuffed bunnies.

Bradley was campaigning full-speed, telling about 100 cheering backers in Burlington, ``There are three days left and we have a lot of work to do. We have some unfinished business.″

Peppered with questions from reporters about his heart, Bradley said, ``No I’m not worried about it. This is a common condition, millions of Americans have it.″

He speculated the problem might be due to elevated caffein consumption after he switched soft drinks to cream soda. ``I have curtailed all of my cream soda,″ said Bradley.

Asked if he should have mentioned the heartbeat episodes earlier, he said no.

``It is not a factor in the campaign or in conduct in office,″ he said. ``If I’m sick at my stomach, do I have to tell you I’m sick at my stomach?″

Bradley said he was taking energy from the crowds.

``This room has a certain feel about it,″ Bradley said. ``This campaign is based on the radical premise that you can go out and tell people what you believe and you can win. If you lead, you have to lay out something specific.″

In Des Moines, Gore and Gov. Tom Vilsack, who is popular among Iowa Democrats, jointly showcased the vice president’s health care proposal in a noontime forum with hospital workers.

Health reform _ with Bradley proposing universal access to health insurance, and Gore pushing a more limited approach _ has been at the red-hot center of their rival campaigns.

But Gore saved his fire Friday for Republicans.

``I’m proud that in the Democratic caucus contest, we are having an in-depth and full debate about how to expand health care to every American,″ Gore said. ``In the Republican contest, they’re debating how to blow the entire surplus on a risky tax scheme that would benefit the wealthy.″

As for Bradley’s plan to replace Medicaid, the government health program for the poor, Gore dropped all previous talk of Bradley vouchers and caps _ distortions that had gotten under his rival’s skin for months _ and called it a ``mainstreaming proposal″ offering subsidies for the purchase of health insurance.

Gore’s soft-mitten touch was especially notable because just the night before he tried to stir Iowa opposition against Bradley for calling the state’s precinct caucuses, which are Monday, an exercise that favors Gore’s ``entrenched power.″

The campaign is sensitive about not appearing to pile on Bradley or exploit questions about his minor heart condition.

At a time when both sides are trying to make sure their supporters turn out at the caucuses, Gore hoped his appearance with Vilsack would be seen as a quasi-endorsement from the officially neutral governor.

Vilsack did not tip his hand as he stood at Gore’s side. ``We appreciate the fact that you and Senator Bradley have brought this issue of health care to the forefront,″ the governor said.

``Nobody knows who’s going to show up in the Iowa caucuses Monday night,″ Bradley told 100 people at a breakfast rally in Burlington. ``If you can call 10 people, we can do better than people expect.″

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