Bradley & Gore Talk To A Draw

No one got knocked to the mat in the rhetorical sparring in New Hampshire between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, though some political blood was spilled.

The vice president took a blunt swipe at the credibility of Bradley's health care proposal - suggesting it would be way more expensive than the former U.S. senator from New Jersey was suggesting.

And Gore also landed a body blow on President Clinton - though he wasn't even on the program.

"I understand the disappointment and anger that you feel toward President Clinton, and I felt it myself," Gore declared in response to a question from a member of the audience at Dartmouth College.

What was odd about that statement was that he didn't have to mention Mr. Clinton's personal misconduct. The question put to Gore was what he would do to "restore confidence in the American political system."

It was clearly another attempt by Gore to distance himself from the presidential scandal - and to try to jettison the baggage some think he carries by virtue of his long-standing defense of the president.

Mark Knoller

Gore's comment even surprised one of his top aides - who insisted it was not a planned statement.

The president wasn't watching the event - he was at a $100,000 fund-raising event for the re-election campaign of House minority whip David Bonior.

Otherwise, Gore seemed in fighting trim. It's obvious he's lost some weight, and his hair was styled to minimize the evidence of male pattern baldness.

He was energetic and anxious to please. He went out of his way to engage the questioners in an Oprah-like way.

Bradley was himself. Professorial but not pedantic. He was courteous, articulate and well-informed.

Both candidates made an effort to seem presidential - and succeeded. It was easy to imagine either one addressing the nation credibly at a time of national crisis.

In the courage-under-fire category, Bradley took the boldest stand in declaring that he would insist that homosexuals be allowed to serve openly in the military.

That's something Mr. Clinton pledged to do but failed to deliver.

His administration's policy is "don't ask, don't tell" - which requires that gays and lesbians keep their sexual orientation secret, or face discharge from the armed forces.

The hour-long talkfest went by at a bearable pace - though Gore came off as a bit of a goody-two-shoes at the end, when he interrupted the closing comments from the moderators to say he would stick around to answer more questions, even after the town meeting went off the air.

But it didn't appear that either candidate sustained a serious injury, self-inflicted or not.

Both left the ring largely unscathed - though neither could declare themselves the winner.

Yet at this stage in the political process, it was moe important to them that neither was seen to be the loser.

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