Bradley fills coffers for a fight

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The Independent Online
IF MONEY is to be the decisive element in next year's presidential election campaign, Bill Bradley - Olympic gold medallist, former basketball star and US Senator - is looking like a force to be reckoned with.

According to figures released yesterday, Mr Bradley now has almost as much in his campaign kitty as Vice-President Al Gore, and in the past three months he raised more money than Mr Gore in crucial states, including New York and California. Both are still comprehensively outstripped in fund-raising by the Republican favourite, George W Bush, who has already swept up $37m (pounds 24.6m) since the beginning of the year.

Mr Bradley's capacity to attract money, however, means he can no longer be treated as an outsider in the race for the Democratic nomination.

In California, where Mr Gore has been assiduously courting Silicon Valley in the hope of tapping into some of the state's new money, Mr Bradley received $1.6m compared with Mr Gore's $1m. In New York, where Wall Street has taken a shine to his low-key air of responsibility and remembers his illustrious 10-year career with the New York Knicks basketball team, Mr Bradley raised more than Mr Gore by almost three to one. He also raised slightly more than Mr Bush.

None of this is good news for Mr Gore. Although he has raised altogether more than Mr Bradley - $17.5m compared with $11.7m - he has also spent much more, leaving him a balance of $9.2m dollars compared with Mr Bradley's $7.4m. Mr Gore's spending rate, especially, raised eyebrows in the Democratic camp, as there are persistent reports that fund-raising at local level is slow.

Mr Bradley, meanwhile, is starting to raise his low profile in the media. Until recently, he made a point of not appearing on television and declined to give broadcast press conferences. Instead, he has been criss-crossing the country, speaking at small-scale local gatherings, often extempore.

But in the past week, he had an article advocating compulsory registration of all hand guns published in The Washington Post. He also appeared on Tonight, the most highly rated late-night television satire and interview show.

In this surprise appearance - the host, Jay Leno, said he did not believe that Mr Bradley would turn up - Mr Bradley showed some of the dry, understated humour that is winning him so much support at local level.

But it also showed the almost unnerving hesitation and diffidence that lost him a presenter's slot on CBS television a few years ago.

Diffidence, however, especially when complimented by the reputation for personal integrity that has attended Mr Bradley throughout his career, may not be the liability that his opponents may have hoped. This week, Mr Bradley picked up another couple of potentially very useful endorsements. To the almost priceless support of the basketball legend, Michael Jordan, and that of the leading Clintonite Senator, Paul Welstone of Minnesota, Mr Bradley added the retiring Senator from New York, Daniel Pat Moynihan, and the film actor-director, Sydney Pollack.

Senator Moynihan, who was recently dragooned into publicly supporting Hillary Clinton's probably run to succeed him in the US Senate, despite his well-known contempt for the Clintons, is a respected figure in the Democratic Party. He could bring with him to the Bradley camp a certain old-style, patrician sector of the party that Mr Gore could have hoped to attract by virtue of his lineage.

Mr Pollack's endorsement is significant as an indicator that the Hollywood constituency, so supportive of Bill Clinton, could transfer its loyalties away from his designated successor. But it is also important for its wording. "I don't like politicians," he said. "Most of us don't like politicians. They are a necessary evil. But Bill is a non- politician politician - with terrific character, terrific morality, a terrific sense of ethics."

These are sentiments frequently voiced by Bradley supporters, who include an unusual number of political neophytes. They could provide Bill Bradley with invaluable political capital through a campaign in which candidates are already defining themselves by how they differ from President Clinton.

The Gore camp is showing a high-minded indifference to Mr Bradley's advance in public, behaving as though the chief battle is with the Republicans, and specifically with George W Bush.

The growing strength of Mr Bradley, however, threatens to force Mr Gore to spend on two fronts at once, just as his fund-raising, and his polling figures, are languishing.

This may be one reason Mr Clinton announced this week that he plans two big fund-raising expeditions next month on Mr Gore's behalf - his first. One will be at the Little Rock State House in Mr Clinton's home state of Arkansas, the other will be four dinners in Washington.

These will coincide with an aggressive advertising campaign to be launched by the Bush camp, which some believe has been timed deliberately to stretch Mr Gore's coffers.

The White House denied, however, that Mr Clinton's efforts reflected panic over Mr Gore's position.

Mr Clinton inaugurated his renewed efforts on Mr Gore's behalf earlier this week with some caustic sniping at Mr Bush's philosophy of "compassionate conservatism". It meant, he said: "I like you, I do. And I'd like not to squander the surplus... But I just can't, and I feel terrible about it."

This was the first time - as Mr Bush's spokeswomen gleefully noted - that Mr Clinton had dignified Mr Bush with recognition as the de facto Republican candidate.

Mr Bradley, however, could be a more difficult rival for Mr Clinton to dispatch on Mr Gore's behalf. While implicitly deploring Mr Clinton's personal conduct, Mr Bradley has expressed respect and approval for many of his policies, most forcefully on race relations. It is hard to escape the impression that were he not bound to Al Gore by ties of loyalty, Mr Clinton would find Mr Bradley just his sort of candidate.