Hillary kisses the ring

Bill and Al duel it out, while Hillary meets the other Al in New York.

Published January 18, 2000 6:00PM (EST)

Race day!

In addition to celebrating Martin Luther King's life and legacy, the holiday is an annual political rite of passage. Every politician who depends on minority support and good photo ops can be seen at prayer breakfasts, local churches and hobnobbing with prominent minority figures. As Al Gore was working the crowd at Dr. King's old congregation, the First Lady was meeting the person Gore has publicly shunned, Al Sharpton. In a preview of things to come she made all the high profile African-American events Monday while Rudy Giuliani avoided joint appearances in favor of meeting small groups of black supporters.

The Democratic presidential candidates spent the evening in Iowa where Bill Bradley squared off against Al Gore at the black- and Latino-sponsored Black-Brown forum in Des Moines, Iowa. Both candidates came prepared to highlight race and even brought along a retinue of multiracial guests.

Outside of a sharp exchange where Bradley urged Gore to have Clinton sign an executive order banning racial profiling, the candidates celebrated agreement on racial issues. Gore had pledged to sign a ban if elected president, but Bradley pushed the point, "You know, Al, I know that you would issue an order to end racial profiling if you were president of the United States, but we have a president now. You serve with him. I want you to walk down that hallway, walk into his office, and say, 'Sign this executive order today.'" Gore responded, "I don't think President Bill Clinton needs a lecture from Bill Bradley about how to stand up and fight for African-Americans and Latinos in this country. It's one thing to talk the talk. It's another thing to walk the walk."

While Gore's response elicited boos from the Iowan audience, polls show massive black support throughout the South and barely register support for Bradley from within the Latino community.

The real differences between the two are in the candidates' approaches to campaigning, past approaches to racial issues and support. Gore continued a scrappy drive to score points wherever possible while Bradley reiterated his personal encounters with racism. At the conclusion of the debate the candidates brought out all-star rosters of minority supporters. Team Gore had Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater while Team Bradley ran with NBA legend Bill Russell and Harvard professor Cornell West. Pol vs. professor. Institution vs. insurgent.

Race is a core Bradley issue. He says that it's the motivating factor of his political life and it's an unflagging part of his personal narrative. In an interview with Salon Sunday Bradley discussed race and the question of whether he can handle the "rat-a-tat-tat" of presidential politics or is he too much the leader that "no one ever hears about"?

In South Carolina, meanwhile, thousands came out to protest the Confederate flag in South Carolina. Despite Bush's garbled articulation of a compassionate -- read: inclusive -- conservatism and GOP strategists' big gambit for Latino votes racial issues are the one area where Democrats have a solid lead. Both Bradley and Gore oppose flying the stars and bars in South Carolina while all Republican candidates either support or dodge the issue.

Green's the only color that truly unites us:

Gore began the day in Atlanta where he gave a Martin Luther King Day address to the Ebenezer Baptist Church on the pulpit where Dr. King himself delivered sermons. Coretta Scott King stood nearby as Gore announced a private donor drive to renovate the church and said that Bill Clinton would push for an extra $1.5 million in next year's budget. This must be what they mean when they talk about using the power of the White House.

On the Republican side, a full-fledged game of hardball is underway. Monday the New York Republican State Committee, which is backing Bush, announced that it would challenge John McCain's place on half of the state's primary ballots. It's not enough that the GOP front-runner's campaign chest dwarfs that of all immediate competitors. These guys want a shut out. McCain couldn't even find a Republican to represent his legal challenge; he had to hire a Democrat.

The money game continues apace. Perennial presidential also-ran Lamar Alexander gave a concise explanation of how today's elections work, "Under the system we have got, the media picks a winner, the fund-raisers place their bets, the thousand-dollar limit runs everybody else out of the race and it is all decided before Thanksgiving." He and Dan Quayle discuss why the $1,000 individual donation limit has contributed to the decline in primary competition in Tuesday's New York Times.

Don't tell G.W. Bush. He hasn't had any problems getting around the $1,000 limit. An article from next week's Newsweek reveals how his tightly knit team of major donors has worked feverishly to build his war chest while highlighting grass-roots donations. But money can't buy you everything. Despite the apparently predetermined nomination of G.W. Bush many people are very unhappy with his air of inevitability. Many are asking, "Just what does he stand for besides winning?"

The latest round of polls finds a virtual dead heat in New Hampshire. Both the AP/Dartmouth College and Washington Post/ABC News polls show Bradley and McCain leading by a hair in New Hampshire. It looks like Gore is pulling even with Bradley while McCain continues to cling to his lead.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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