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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Indicates It's Home Stretch to the Nomination

March 05, 2000|JAMES GERTSENZANG and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — Three days before the cross-country primaries and caucuses from Massachusetts to California, Vice President Al Gore began talking Saturday as though the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is nearly run.

At a sun-drenched but chilly rally in Boston and at another here in a gymnasium of the Erie Community College near Buffalo, Gore summoned supporters to the polls, in an effort to finally sweep aside Bill Bradley's quest for the presidency.

For the first time in a campaign that has already been underway for a year, and with final voting still eight months off, the vice president left no doubt that he sees a milestone just within reach. Also for the first time, signaling either confidence or fatigue, he made his pitch for support without saying he was not taking a single vote for granted.

"I ask you here in Massachusetts to make the decisive judgment, because you here in Massachusetts have an opportunity to close the book on the Democratic nomination," he said in Boston. "You have the chance to make the decisive statement."

It was a role he ascribed, two hours later, to New York: "On Tuesday, New York state will have the decisive voice in picking the Democratic nominee," Gore said.

For his part, Bradley stumped through New York City on Saturday, trying to strike an optimistic tone about his chances in the state many once thought he could win.

Bradley tried to play down his dim prospects for beating Gore in New York, telling cheering crowds at outdoor rallies that his vision of a "new politics" can still carry the day. The former senator from New Jersey was once ahead of the vice president in the polls, but after Bradley lost New Hampshire, Gore pulled ahead of him.

"We're a little behind, but it's not over," Bradley said on a crisp Saturday morning, squinting his eyes against the bright March sunshine as about 200 people waved blue Bill Bradley signs in Washington Square. "We can come from behind and win. Let's do that on Tuesday."

Bradley has been acknowledging as the voting neared that, with no victories yet in the primary election campaign, he must begin collecting delegates by Tuesday to demonstrate he can win.

While Bradley has toned down his criticism of Gore in recent days, his campaign released a statement Saturday in response to a Philadelphia Inquirer article that raised new questions about the vice president's knowledge of a controversial fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple in California in 1996.

"These new documents are further evidence that the fund-raising scandals of 1996 remain a problem," Bradley said in the statement. "There are new issues the vice president must address."

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