New York Democrats Prefer Bill Bradley to Run With Gore

Back in the days when Bill Bradley’s Presidential campaign was considered a formidable threat to Al Gore-that was about 17 years ago, wasn’t it?-New York figured to be one of Mr. Bradley’s keys to victory. It was here, after all, that Mr. Bradley spent the first decade of his working life, where the banker’s son from Missouri became “Dollar Bill,” the smartest player on one of New York’s smartest teams, the Knicks of the 1970’s.

And so delegate-rich New York became Mr. Bradley’s virtual home state, with his left-of-centrist campaign made to order for those sturdy soldiers of class, gender, cultural, ethnic and racial conflict who dominate the party during primary seasons. When the state’s most respected legislator and party elder, retiring U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, endorsed Mr. Bradley and asserted that Mr. Gore couldn’t win in November, the effect was not unlike one of Mr. Bradley’s patented 25-footers from the corner: The timing was impeccable, and the opposition suddenly seemed a step slower.

As things worked out, however, Mr. Moynihan’s endorsement probably was the high point of the Bradley campaign. It was on life support by the time it reached New York, and the former Senator pulled the plug after getting routed here, there and everywhere on Super Tuesday, March 7. But New York Democrats clearly retain a soft spot for the man who once wore No. 24. In fact, according to a survey of the state’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, New York Democrats believe Mr. Bradley should be Mr. Gore’s choice for Vice President. The Observer reached 234 of the state’s 294 delegates, and 55 of them said that Mr. Bradley was their first preference for the No. 2 slot. In second place was that hero of many an indifferent battle, General Apathy: More than 40 delegates expressed no preference in Mr. Gore’s eventual choice. The remaining votes were split among House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, California Senator Dianne Feinstein and former Senator George Mitchell. New Yorker Robert Rubin, President Clinton’s former Treasury Secretary, was the choice of a scattered few, as were Connecticut Senator Joseph Leiberman and Indiana Governor Evan Bayh, among others. And Mr. Clinton’s Defense Secretary, William Cohen, has the support of Representative Charles Rangel of Harlem-even though Mr. Cohen is a Republican. “It would show just how big our tent is in the Democratic Party,” Mr. Rangel told The Observer.

As of July 25, when George W. Bush presented Dick Cheney to the electorate as his running mate, Mr. Gore had yet to drop a hint about his choice for the Vice Presidency. During his campaign stops on July 23, however, he did express delight-in a scripted kind of way-in asserting that he would be running with the environmental movement and with the “workin’ people” of America. Whether or not membership in the latter group is a prerequisite for the Vice Presidency remains to be seen.

While Mr. Bush made a safe choice in Mr. Cheney, a comforting figure who inspires memories of pre-Clinton days (Mr. Cheney was running Gerald Ford’s White House when a certain future Senator from New Jersey was in short pants), Mr. Gore’s selection of Mr. Bradley would make a powerful statement about the post-Clinton era. With a reputation for integrity, candor and probity, Mr. Bradley could neutralize the taint-by-association that has haunted Mr. Gore’s campaign. Mr. Bradley’s unsuccessful primary campaign had about it more than a touch of anti-Clintonism-it was hardly a coincidence that Mr. Bradley had the support of Mr. Moynihan and Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, men who would not list the President, as Mr. Gore did during the impeachment debacle, on any list of great White House tenants.

And with Mr. Cheney as his opposite number, Mr. Bradley might, might, seem charismatic, if only by contrast. Mr. Cheney spent his youth training to be a bureaucrat. Mr. Bradley spent his on the polished floor of Madison Square Garden. Advantage, Mr. Bradley.

Assemblyman Roberto Ramierez, who runs the Democratic county organization in the Bronx, was among the respondents who admitted that Mr. Bradley’s presence on the ticket would please him enormously. Mr. Bradley, he said, “will always be a candidate in my heart.” The Assemblyman also noted that while New Yorkers like him will always associate Mr. Bradley with the Knicks and an era in New York history, in fact he was a senator from and remains a resident of New Jersey-a crucial swing state. So vital is New Jersey that the four candidates for national office figure to spend more time shaking hands on the Jersey Shore, browsing the shopping malls of Bergen County and stalking the streets of downtown Newark than they’ll spend in New York, a state considered a lock for Mr. Gore. Mr. Bradley, Mr. Ramierez noted, “is from a state we would welcome into the Democratic Party.”

Countering Ralph Nader

He also represents a bloc of votes the Democratic Party must retain-serious, policy-oriented liberals who support campaign-finance reform and who are giving Green Party candidate Ralph Nader a look-see. Mr. Bradley’s famous declaration that “politics is broken”-made when he announced that he would not seek a fourth Senate term in 1998-resonates with potential Nader voters in the Democratic Party. His palpable disillusion with status-quo politics and Clinton-era centrism, along with his own kind of personal asceticism (off-the-rack suits, modest lifestyle), could make Mr. Bradley a perfect antidote to the party’s Nader problem.

The question, of course, is whether Mr. Bradley’s pox-on-politics style would grate on career politician Al Gore, who has spent his life training for that moment in Los Angeles when he accepts his party’s nomination for President. For Mr. Ramirez, however, chemistry doesn’t matter all that much. “Did [Ronald] Reagan and [George] Bush get along? Did Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy get along?” he asked, recalling two rocky marriages of convenience in recent political history. “The objective is not [simply] to have a fuzzy, warm relationship,” he said. “The idea here is to win a Presidential election.”

That, of course, begs the question that skeptics raise once every four summers: Is the Vice Presidential candidate actually worth a bucket of warm spit on Election Day? And, if so, does Mr. Bradley have the, er, juice?

“Bill Bradley didn’t even do well in Jersey,” scoffed Mr. Rangel, although it would seem incumbent to point out that the New Jersey primary took place on June 7, by which time Mr. Bradley had retreated to the political desert to contemplate his future. “We thought Bradley could be a spoiler, and he wasn’t even that.”

And it’s certainly possible-probable, even-that he won’t be a savior, either. While pundits enjoy ruminating over the strengths and weaknesses that running mates bring to national tickets, voters make their decisions based on who’s on first, not what’s on second. Lloyd Bentsen, Michael Dukakis’ running mate, humiliated Dan Quayle, George Bush’s running mate, in 1988, but Mr. Dukakis spent Election Night rehearsing a concession speech, and Mr. Bush went on to chase the Iraqis out of Kuwait and provide Maureen Dowd with a target who had “kick me” attached to the back of his navy blazer.

Still, at a time when Bush Republicans are updating their résumés and inquiring about real estate prices in Georgetown, New York Democrats cling to the thought that a Gore-Bradley ticket could make a difference among undecided voters and the prodigal sons and daughters in their own camp. “[Mr. Bradley] personally adds a lot to the ticket, in integrity and honesty,” said Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello. “And he’s not a Washington insider.”

The outside shot, he might have added, always was Mr. Bradley’s specialty.

(Reporting by Jonathan Goldberg, Ted Diskant, Gabe Oberfield, Alex Pasternack and Charles Forelle.)