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CAMPAIGN 2000

Bradley and McCain Bid Bittersweet Farewells

Campaign: Both hold on to delegates, express hope reform messages will endure. Vanquished Democrat promises to support Gore. Surviving nominees-to-be blast each other.

March 10, 2000|T. CHRISTIAN MILLER and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

With wistful farewells spurred by coldhearted realities, challengers John McCain and Bill Bradley bowed out of the presidential contest on Thursday insisting that their messages will survive their failed candidacies.

Before a breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped buttes in Sedona, Ariz., near his vacation home, McCain, 63, announced he was "suspending" his campaign--holding on to his 231 delegates but effectively ceding the Republican nomination to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"I am no longer an active candidate for my party's nomination for president," said the senator from Arizona, whose unorthodox campaign tactics and bold persona helped him win seven primaries but later led to his undoing. "I hoped our campaign would be a force for change in the Republican Party, and I believe we have indeed set a course that will ultimately prevail in making our party as big as the country we serve."

An hour earlier and a continent away, the Democratic race ended as Bradley, 56, the former senator from New Jersey, offered his own valedictory for a campaign that never lived up to its promise and died in Tuesday's bicoastal drubbing by Vice President Al Gore.

"We have been defeated, but the cause for which I ran has not been, the cause of trying to create a new politics in this country, the cause of trying to fulfill our special promise as a nation," Bradley declared at a banquet hall in West Orange, N.J., near his campaign headquarters.

Bradley, who avoided the word "endorse," promised to support Gore but said he would not release his 412 delegates because they deserve to have their voices heard at the party's national convention this summer in Los Angeles. McCain did not endorse Bush, indicating that he was waiting until Bush embraces the senator's effort to reform the nation's system of campaign financing. He also ruled out a third-party bid.

By holding their delegates, the challengers were trying with their leave-taking to exert leverage over the putative nominees--although both have been in politics long enough to know that such efforts are usually futile. Even without the challengers' delegates, Bush and Gore will clinch their parties' nominations shortly.

Battle Lines Clearly Drawn for November

The surviving candidates-cum-nominees, meanwhile, continued their already contentious battle for November, with the newly disenfranchised voters in mind. Bush, cloaking himself in the mantle of reform, blasted Gore as a campaign finance hypocrite.

"What's going to win [McCain's] supporters over is when they realize Al Gore is no reformer and Al Gore is no John McCain," said Bush, who had spent considerable effort in the primaries to convince Republicans that McCain was uncomfortably close to Gore, policy-wise.

"I think McCain voters will be looking for somebody who'll bring honor and integrity to the White House. McCain voters want to hear somebody who's got a positive vision to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart."

Gore aides, in response, cited Bush's decision not to abide by federal campaign spending limits as evidence that he opposes reform.

For both of the challengers, Thursday was bittersweet, a day to recall the intoxicating roar of the crowds even as the race, for them, fell silent. Both are men very used to winning--Bradley, with his background as an NBA star and a three-term senator, and McCain, the former Vietnam War prisoner who segued easily into two terms in Congress and three in the Senate. Neither man had ever lost an election until their fates became abundantly clear in Tuesday's routs.

Both campaigns suffered because of the challengers' personalities, which were on display Thursday to varied extents.

Bradley made a move on Gore last year, when the vice president's campaign was foundering. But in the end, he was done in by his insistence on running his campaign his own way, disdaining Gore's withering attacks instead of responding in kind.

He also erected a huge and ultimately self-defeating zone of privacy around himself, which served to distance him from the very voters he wished to touch. With his opening line Thursday, he gently mocked his past refusal to fuel the celebrity side of his candidacy.

"I want to begin this morning with a discussion of my favorite books," he said, prompting laughter from reporters who had failed for months to pull such personal details from him.

Bradley Continues Push for Reform

While supporting Gore, Bradley insisted that the country should pursue his platform of eradicating poverty, providing universal health care and enacting campaign finance reform.

"If we don't seize this moment, future generations will judge us harshly and say, 'They knew what was wrong, they had the means to make it better and they did not act,' " he said.

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