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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Stressing Unity, Bradley Releases His Delegates

Former senator tells supporters that 'everything we fought for still lives' after bruising primary battle with Gore. He encourages them to back the vice president.

August 15, 2000|MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former presidential candidate Bill Bradley released his 359 delegates Monday, the final chapter in his campaign for "a new kind of politics" that eventually collapsed under the pressure of Al Gore's hard-hitting attacks.

The former senator from New Jersey, whose relations with Gore were brittle following their primary battle, urged his supporters to rally behind the vice president, saying the Democratic Party is better off united. He added that he still believes a campaign that takes the high road, as he attempted to, can triumph.

"The point is that everything we fought for still lives," he said during an afternoon rally with his supporters at a downtown Los Angeles hotel ballroom. "I believe that those values and idealism and commitment will not die and will move forward. But that was the primary, and now we're involved in a general election."

During his brief remarks, Bradley reiterated the importance of the issues he addressed during his 15-month campaign--eradicating child poverty, establishing universal health care and healing the country's racial wounds, along with an overarching belief in the goodness of the American people.

"I believe that Al Gore will stand for the things that we fought for in our campaign, and he deserves our support," he told supporters.

The delegates applauded enthusiastically but reserved their largest cheers for Bradley's descriptions of his campaign and ideas, especially when he voiced his commitment to campaign finance reform.

Bill Daley, Gore's campaign chairman, attended the rally to thank Bradley and his delegates. He asked them to support Gore and his running mate, Joseph I. Lieberman, even though, he acknowledged, it might be difficult to give them the same level of enthusiasm they gave Bradley.

"To honor [Bradley] is to make sure that the sort of things that he's talked about get implemented," Daley said. While most people clapped politely, there were some scattered hisses when Daley spoke, and at one point he was drowned out by the chants of "Bradley!" from the crowd.

Bradley's positive words for Gore represent a big turnabout from his view of his opponent during the primaries, when he bristled at the vice president's jabs, at one point accusing him of "the worst use of scare tactics I have seen in many years." Four months after he pulled out of the race, he finally offered Gore his formal endorsement during an event in Green Bay, Wis., on July 13.

Bradley did not win a single state in his campaign against Gore. But he gathered a share of the delegates in his losing effort, which ended after the California primary in March.

On Monday, Bradley told The Times that keeping the Democrats in power is his most important goal.

"I think that losing control of the White House for four years is not an insignificant matter, and if you believe in the things that I believe in, then it is important to support the person who is the one who is going to try to fight for those same things," he said.

He also voiced his support for Lieberman, calling him "a quality person" with "good political judgment."

When he addresses the convention tonight, Bradley said he will repeat his belief that Gore is the best candidate to address the challenges facing the country. He will also speak about the need to tackle child poverty and universal health care, and encourage youths not to give up on the political process.

He admitted he felt "sad" after his crushing defeat in the March primaries and caucuses but said Monday that he still thinks of his campaign as "a joyous journey," one that left him "absolutely convinced of the richness of character of the American people."

For the last few months, Bradley dropped out of public view, vacationing with his wife, Ernestine, and writing a book about his presidential bid called "The Journey From Here."

Although he has no firm plans beyond campaigning for Democrats throughout the fall, he said he will continue to pursue the issues he talked about in some capacity, perhaps in the private sector. He refused to say whether he would run again.

While Bradley's bid gained momentum last fall, surprising the Gore campaign, his refusal to respond to the vice president's criticisms of his universal health care plan, among other issues, proved his undoing. And he was knocked for maintaining an aloof distance from the press, refusing to make friendly overtures to the reporters covering his campaign until the last few weeks.

On Sunday, the former star with the New York Knicks held a basketball clinic for his former press corps at a gym in Santa Monica. For an hour, he ran up and down the court with about a dozen sweaty reporters, shouting out tips and teasing the press, looking, at last, like he was actually having fun.

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