Carvin' Up The Apple

bill bradley gray's papaya new york city
Bill Bradley scarfed down a hot dog and Al Gore read aloud A Friend for Little Bear as both popped in and out of New York City on Thursday.

New York once looked to be a real donnybrook for the two Democratic candidates, but the sound and fury have faded in the wake of Gore's triumph in Washington state. Now both men seem more relaxed - and seem to be better candidates.

Al Gore sat with a group of kindergartners at a public school and carefully read them a children's book. More involved than some crowds at his events, the kids interjected comments, opinions, and questions as Gore shared the tale of a stuffed bear who makes friends with a wooden horse.

Bradley's National Ad

Bill Bradley took to the airwaves last night, urging voters to ignore the polls and follow their conscience.

"I knew when I got into this race that it wouldn't be easy," Bradley said in a five-minute ad, which aired on CBS nationwide. "Anything worth fighting for in life rarely is. But my convictions of where we are as a country and where we can go are so deep that I made the decision to take on the establishment and run."

Bradley plans stops in Maine and Rhode Island on Friday, while Gore plans to stump in Florida and Georgia.

It was sweet. But because Gore is Gore, there was more to it than that.

"What's the lesson of this book?" he asked the kids. And when they offered a mixed verdict, he suggested it was, "You shouldn't leave a friend alone or take a friend for granted" - which is kind of a paraphrase, if you think about it, of his response to questions about his relationship with President Clinton.

Kids don't vote, so Gore headed over to another classroom to tell their parents he's "committed heart and soul to moving heaven and earth to bring revolutionary change to schools." As he discoursed on class size, new school construction, and providing interest-free bonding authority to school districts, his tone occasionally sounded as patient and painstaking as it had while he was reading to the kids.

But it worked for at least some voters in the room.

"He was very well informed. His knowledge is more than superficial," said an impressed Ellen Punduik, whose child attends the school. She agrees with Gore that education is "the number one priority," and she doesn't like vouchers, an idea Bradley's willing to test. So is she sure of her vote now? "Ninety percent, as of today," she nodded.

"This is the Al Gore I know," said Mark Green, New York City's Public Advocate and a Gore supporter. "He doesn't have to have a teleprompter. He doesn't have to jump up and down. He's smart, calm, experienced and visionary. I thought he was very presidential in his remarks."

Bradley hit a different kid of presidential note. He stopped by one of those oddities of New York life, a hot-dog stand that sells papaya juice. Sporting a red Gray's Papaya jacket which read "Snappy Service," Bradley downed the dog, shook hands and took a bullhorn to tell a friendly group outside: "We're a little bit behind, we're putting on the full court press and we can make this happen."

That's doubtful, for New Yorkers have probably made up their minds. As Green points out, "New York primary voters already know both Gore and Bradley really well. Their ads are not going to move voters."

That hasn't stopped Bradley from buying five minutes on CBS tonight at 10:55 P.M. Eastern. The commercial is unvarnished Bradley: black background, soft voice, earnest appeal and a Jimmy Stewart-like belief in changing a corrupt system.

"Some say we'll never eliminate child poverty. I don't accept that," he says in the commercial. "Some say we're never going to end gun violence in America. Why not?"

That same spirit colors his days now. "Don't be discouraged, I'm not," he said pleasantly to a woman outside the hot-dog stand.

Bradley becomes a more appealing candidate the moment he stops complaining about Gore's voting record. He has looked more chipper since losing Washington than he did before. You can read this as "Bradley's given up." But without denying the reality of his dire situation, maybe he decided, now that his last chance is upon him, to put his best foot forward - particularly since his worst foot didn't work for him. Maybe he figured he'd give one last try to the notion that you can wage a campaign without attacking your opponent.

Well, as Stewart said in his quintessential role as Mr. Smith, lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.