Bradley's grim march

The campaign denies rumors that the candidate is dropping out in the face of another primary loss.

Published March 1, 2000 3:30PM (EST)

"We lost," said Eric Hauser, spokesman for Sen. Bill Bradley, of the Washington primary.

It was Tuesday night. For about 45 minutes we'd been fidgeting in the bowels of the Regal Biltmore Hotel, tediously twiddling our thumbs while we waited for Hauser to appear to tell us a few stark realities that we already knew. (Heaven forbid the senator would actually deign to come down off his pedestal to speak with us.)

These truths were: Vice President Al Gore demolished Bradley in the Evergreen State, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, maybe by even more than 3 to 1. Bradley's strategy to barnstorm the state and woo the independent-minded voters of the Pacific Northwest for the Feb. 29 nonbinding primary -- and thus build sorely lacking momentum to charge into the multiple primaries of Super Tuesday on March 7 -- fell flat on its face.

And to top it all off, both the Washington Post and ABC News had reported that senior-level Bradley advisors were begging their candidate to withdraw before Tuesday to save himself from embarrassing humiliation.

"If we get massacred on Tuesday, what's the last thing people remember about Bill Bradley?" an unnamed Bradley campaign official told Mike Allen of the Post, describing hordes of advisors begging, pleading with, Bradley to withdraw. "History would not be kind."

Although Hauser denied the accuracy of the Post's story, his tone was nonetheless glum. "We are a little disappointed," he allowed.

Bradley had, after all, been the one who set up Washington state -- a contest no one had previously given much thought to -- as a key Democratic primary. Though Tuesday's contest had no delegates at stake -- those will be chosen in the March 7 Washington caucus -- Bradley declared the state "an important battleground," putting his national campaign on hold and dedicating almost a week and a lot of bucks to a win. If the strategy had worked, he would have been seen as a genius.

But it didn't work, and he ain't no genius. By Monday morning, Bradley was en route to California, where Tuesday night his press secretary announced that his candidate hadn't called Gore to congratulate him.

"However," Hauser added, "we think it, in other ways, went quite well for us."


Hauser explained that in King County, home of Seattle, where Bradley had spent much of his five-day swing through the state, the vote count was even. Thus, the thinking went, in a locale in which voters were engaged, and treated to a hearty helping of Bradley's "drawing contrasts" between his candidacy and that of the vice president, his ass wasn't kicked quite as bad.

This was apparently why Hauser was almost an hour late to his own press conference. He had to come up with that steaming pile of silver lining.

On the other side of the fence, the other guy's press secretary had more to crow about.

"Washington state is a region that Vice President Gore has a close relationship to," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said. "He climbed Mount Rainier, his daughter worked out there and he himself has spent a lot of time out there in the last seven years. Plus, his policies translate to great politics out there -- his support of the environment, his interest in the high-tech community and the issues of livability he has discussed throughout this campaign."

Lehane pointed out that "Washington state is a place that Senator Bradley said he was going to go for broke [in]. He spent the last six days and a lot of money there. And it's also the state where he broke his promise not to run negative media spots against Al Gore. So he was literally and figuratively going for broke in Washington state."

Hauser, like his candidate -- and not unlike the weather in Los Angeles that day -- was moody. He joked around. He ridiculously called the Washington Post story "shoddy journalism." He joked around again.

We asked him how Bradley's mood was. Hauser said it was fine. He was preparing for Wednesday night's debate against Gore.

Hours before, Bradley had appeared outside the John Wooden Center on the campus of UCLA for a well-attended rally. It was Bradley at his most appealing and inspiring, calling us to a greater good, talking about big ideas and dreams, asking the students to demand more for themselves and their world.

"Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams," he said. "And so tonight, in L.A., I ask you: What are your dreams, for yourself, and your family, and for your country? My dream is to begin by having an approach comparable to the opportunities in our world today. And I would argue that the way you approach them is you have to think big.

"When Franklin Roosevelt had Social Security, he didn't do it for a few people, he did it for everybody over 65 -- during the Depression! Or Lyndon Johnson went against all the political advice and pushed for civil rights legislation in the 1960s. He didn't worry about the repercussions; he saw the opportunity and did it and changed the face of America. So my goal is to think big."

The temperature dipped into the relatively arctic 50s, but the kids stood and listened and cheered. After the rally, dozens of students signed up to join the college Democrats and some to volunteer for the Bradley campaign.

"I'm interested in helping the cause," said Monica Ravizza, 18, a freshman from Redondo Beach, Calif. "I like the stuff he believes."

"Gore's not appealing," seconded Lara Goenjian, 18, a freshman from Los Angeles. "This guy's nice. He's sincere."

Poor kids, I thought. They don't know.

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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