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CAMPAIGN 2000

Democrats in New York State of Mind Before Tuesday Vote

March 03, 2000|JAMES GERSTENZANG and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NEW YORK — One day after making what is likely to be his final pitch in California before Tuesday's primary, Vice President Al Gore turned his attention Thursday to the heart of New York's Democratic Party and what was once thought to be the unapproachable bedrock of Bill Bradley's support.

Bradley, struggling to maintain a veneer of hope, insisted that he was not discouraged by his low standing in the 16 states that will vote Tuesday. His campaign took to the national airwaves with an underdog's pitch that admitted the obvious. "I knew when I got into this race that it wouldn't be easy," Bradley said, according to a transcript released by his campaign. "Anything worth fighting for in life rarely is."

The positioning of the two reflected the widespread belief that, with his unaggressive, genial approach in Wednesday's Los Angeles debate, Bradley had all but signaled the end of his longshot campaign against the vice president.

Gore certainly acted like a man confident that he will be the Democratic nominee, as he worked Manhattan's Upper West Side. He stood just three miles from Madison Square Garden, where Bradley's basketball prowess dazzled fans in the 1970s, but his targets were the Republicans, George W. Bush and John McCain.

Speaking at P.S. 163, a public elementary school, Gore said of the governor of Texas and the senator from Arizona: "The Republican candidates both have supported draining money away from public schools at a time when more is needed. They seem to think that just because New York schools begin with 'P.S.,' education is an afterthought. It's not. We need to put more money into schools."

If Gore holds to his current schedule, he will be focusing almost exclusively on the East Coast states that are voting Tuesday, apparently confident that California is safely in his grasp. A Los Angeles Times Poll of likely California voters, published Wednesday, showed Gore leading Bradley by a 5 to 1 ratio in the state.

While no California stops are currently scheduled, Gore is expected to make at least two more visits to New York, which also votes on Tuesday.

Bradley, meanwhile, was pressing to remain relevant in the Northeast, which once was his strongest region, given his Knicks years and his three terms as a senator.

He made the rounds of local news shows, touting his chances.

"I've been in those places before, when nobody thought you can do it and I did it. So it doesn't bother me," he said, in an interview with CBS-TV's New York City affiliate.

After a moment's pause, he added, "I'd be less than truthful if I didn't tell you I wish I was 30 up."

Bradley told the ABC-TV affiliate that he will concentrate in coming days in New York and states in New England. "Those are states I can win," he said.

"I'm not going to quit," he added. "I'm strong. I'm fighting."

On Thursday night, his campaign ran a five-minute television ad on CBS in which Bradley talked about the motivations of his campaign. "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," he said.

During the day Thursday, Bradley visited a popular storefront hot dog stand in lower Manhattan, where he donned a red jersey with the words "Snappy Service" written across the front and served up dogs to a mob of people.

Later, he had a message for voters during an interview with an NBC-TV affiliate in Hartford, Conn.: "Don't listen to the pollsters or the pundits. Vote your heart. Vote your conscience. Vote for a new politics."

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