PLYMOUTH, N.H. — With elbows flying, Democratic candidate Bill Bradley '65 chased his opponent Vice President Al Gore around New Hampshire this weekend, battling for the support of as-yet-undecided voters in the last days before tomorrow's presidential primary.
Coming off a sound defeat in the Iowa caucuses last week, Bradley has been campaigning hard for a strong showing in New Hampshire. After being criticized by many people for his relative passivity, Bradley adopted a more aggressive approach — vocally accusing Gore of deliberately misleading voters.
The most recent tracking polls suggest this change in tactics may have paid off, with Bradley gaining several points on Gore this weekend after a post-Iowa decline. Polls show the two are in a statistical dead heat.
As part of his 'new politics' platform, Bradley has avoided negative attacks on Gore, despite his claims that the vice president had been distorting his record. But, as Bradley said in a rally in Plymouth, N.H., on Saturday, "Last week, I had it, and I called [Gore] on it." Since then, Bradley has more aggressively denounced Gore's techniques and rhetoric.
Bradley's wife Ernestine likened her husband's new attacks to throwing elbows in a basketball game. "As this campaign is progressing, we are seeing some of these elbows sticking out a little bit more," she said.
Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), who campaigned with Bradley this weekend, also attacked Gore. "If someone is prepared to say anything to get elected, even if it wasn't the truth, how can you trust them to be president?" he said.
Response among supporters to Bradley's more aggressive campaigning has been mixed. "I wanted him to stay above the fray and not attack Gore," campaign volunteer George Scott '59 said, but added that Bradley's "feistier" attitude was a necessary move to satisfy independent voters.
Edith Hamersma, a former resident of Elmwood Park, N.J., who moved recently to Holderness, N.H., said she supported the change. "I'm impressed that he started fighting back, which he should have done sooner."
Her husband Peter agreed, saying, "[Bradley] let Gore mislead the public too long."
As they criss-crossed the back roads and main streets of New Hampshire since Tuesday, staging rallies and open forums, both candidates also have been drilling the key campaign issues, such as health care, education, gun control, abortion and campaign finance reform. With each undetermined vote a coveted commodity, both candidates conducted a number of small question-and-answer sessions, hoping to sway undecided voters through direct discourse.
Despite Bradley's recent shift to the aggressive, his supporters still laud his character and honesty. "He will restore our belief that it is possible to have a good person and a good politician simultaneously together as the president of the United States," Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) said while campaigning with Bradley on Saturday.
Senior Writer Martha Pitts contributed to this story.