Bill Bradley In GOP Crosshairs

The Republican National Committee is adjusting its presidential election strategy and taking a closer look at Democratic candidate Bill Bradley after determining that Al Gore is vulnerable.

The latest RNC poll, which is still in the works, includes several questions about the former Democratic senator from New Jersey. GOP leaders have ordered staff to begin researching the political background of Gore's only rival for the Democratic nomination.

"We are serious about Bradley. We think he has an excellent chance of upsetting the vice president," said Tom Cole, chief of staff to chairman Jim Nicholson.

"It's clear that he has a lot of momentum. There are a lot of disaffected Democrats who are looking to not make this election about Bill Clinton," Cole said.

Gore's campaign said the RNC's only motive is to create a false impression that the vice president is weak.

"I think the GOP strategy is as transparent as their lack of vision," said Gore spokesman Roger Salazar. "I think it's ironic that they're trying to build up our Democratic opponent. It just shows our strength."

Public opinion polls show Gore with a wide lead over Bradley among Democratic voters, but the gap is shrinking. Bradley produced a strong showing in first-quarter fund raising and has begun to distinguish himself from the vice president, particularly involving the administration's actions in Yugoslavia.

While Gore defends President Clinton, Bradley contends the administration's objectives in Kosovo are not clear.

Giving rise to questions about Gore's general election stamina, public opinion polls show he trails early GOP favorite, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. The surveys also show that many voters are tired of problems associated with the Clinton administration.

Cole said the special polling and background search will help the party prepare its case against Bradley, should he win the nomination.

The Bradley campaign declined comment.

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