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Bradley's Presidential Bid Dribbles On


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The guest was Bill Bradley, and the hundreds of students jammed into a stately campus hall at Brown University late last week buzzed with anticipation.

After all, scores of them had gone to New Hampshire to work on his presidential campaign this winter, and now they had one last weekend to help him in Rhode Island's primary on Tuesday.

"What I want to do today is talk to you a little bit about foreign policy," Bradley began, quickly puncturing the energy in the room. As he droned on--his speech peppered with phrases such as "European pillar," "Russian fissionable uranium" and "hegemonic intentions"--the students shifted in their seats, glassy-eyed. Instead of Bradley the Candidate, this was Bradley the Professor.

In what appears to be the waning days of the Bradley campaign, increasingly there are moments like these when the candidate seems to be just going through the motions.

On Sunday, with the crush of 16 Democratic primaries and caucuses less than 48 hours away, his schedule was appropriately hectic as he campaigned in New York, Maryland and Ohio. But with polls showing him running far behind Al Gore in all three states, Bradley appears to be laying the groundwork for a graceful exit from the race.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Bradley did take a swipe at Gore, characterizing him as a politician voters "can barely tolerate." But he also acknowledged that the harsh tone that had marked the Democratic race had "calmed down."

Bradley aides try to remain forward-looking--announcing on Sunday plans to take the campaign to Florida late in the week--but their faces are long as they hash over polls showing Bradley trailing in all of Tuesday's 16 Democratic contests.

Bradley himself insists that he hasn't give up.

"I still think we can win," he said late Saturday night aboard his campaign plane. Drawing on his background as a star collegiate and professional basketball player, he added: "When it gets to the last seconds of the game, the last minutes of the game, you have to be calm. You have to execute. That's what I'm trying to do."

However, as his campaign rolled across New England last week trying to drum up support in Connecticut and Rhode Island--two of the few states where he's close in the polls--there was a certain hollowness about his appearances, as many supporters acknowledged there was little hope left.

At a Boys and Girls Club in Bridgeport, Conn., British pop band Jesus Jones' anthem, "Right Here, Right Now," blasted from the loudspeakers. Supporters threw glitter and waved signs. But the gym was only half-filled.

There are still moments when Bradley is energized, revealing glimpses of the campaign that could have been.

On Sunday, he was greeted by more than 600 enthusiastic supporters chanting: "We Trust Bill!" as they hung over the balconies of an outdoor mini-mall in Bethesda, Md.

The upbeat candidate promised the crowd that he would win Maryland's primary, and after a passionate speech about his dream for the country, shouted: "On to victory!"


Times staff writer Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this story.

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