Bradley, McCain are closing fast |

Bradley, McCain are closing fast

Guy W. Farmer

Hey, have you heard the one about Bill Bradley and Al Gore? They had a personality contest. Nobody won. Yuk yuk. But seriously, if you’ve watched any of the Bradley-Gore debates, you know what I’m talking about.

And while former New York Knick and New Jersey Sen. Bradley mounts a strong challenge to Vice President Gore in the Democratic presidential primaries, Arizona Sen. John McCain is gaining ground in his race against Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. Front runners Bush and Gore don’t look nearly as cocky today as they did a couple of months ago.

Democrats Bradley and Gore continue to pander to their core constituencies – minorities, homosexuals, school teachers and union members – by promising to spend the entire federal budget surplus, and more, on cradle-to-grave education and health care. They’re trying to out-liberal one another because that’s who votes in the Democratic primaries. Later, the party’s nominee will rush to the political center as Bill Clinton did in 1992 and 1996, because that’s where the votes are in November.

Vice President Gore got so carried away last week that he proposed a “litmus test” for his Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman: His top military officer would have to agree with him that homosexuals should be permitted to serve openly in the military. After a fire storm of criticism from retired military officers and ominous grumbling in active duty ranks, Gore said he never intended to establish a litmus test, although that’s what he said.

Bradley, who agrees with Gore on almost everything except health care, wisely said nothing. Perhaps he had seen a recent survey by Duke University’s Triangle Institute for Security Studies that revealed how up-and-coming officers feel about gays in the military.

Fully 75 percent of them are opposed to allowing gays to serve openly – preferring President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – and more than 25 percent said they would resign if gays were allowed to serve openly. That would be devastating at a time when U.S. armed forces are struggling to meet readiness and retention goals.

The four leading contenders are campaigning hard in the final days leading up to the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary. “In New Hampshire, the underdogs – Bradley and McCain – are now the favorites, or close to it,” according to Dan Balz of the Washington Post. “Bradley and McCain have risen to challenge two men once considered odds-on favorites to win their parties’ nominations by bucking tradition and promising a new style of politics.”

Bradley’s cerebral, laid-back style certainly contrasts with that of Gore, who has an unfortunate tendency to shout when he gets excited, even though he’s now wearing those reassuring earth tones recommended by his feminist wardrobe consultant, Naomi Wolf.

When Bradley told Gore to “get real,” he sounded the insurgents’ battle cry for this year’s presidential election. “I don’t know if you get this, Al,” Bradley said, “but a political campaign is not just a performance for people.”

Does Gore get it? Will he become a victim of Clinton fatigue? We’ll have some answers by Feb. 1.

On the Republican side, Bush is the establishment candidate and McCain is the insurgent. Although Bush has recovered after stumbling in early debates, the Arizona senator and war hero is giving him a run for his money in New Hampshire.

McCain’s hope, Balz wrote, is “to puncture Bush’s image as a winner in hopes that the party establishment abandons the Texas governor.” That’s a long-shot strategy but not entirely impossible.

“John McCain has his enemies where he wants them – all lined up and right in front of him,” wrote David Nyhan of the Boston Globe last Tuesday. Calling McCain “the least programmed and most focused of the eight men still running for president,” Nyhan noted that McCain remains “spirited and defiant” despite increasing criticism from his Republican rivals, including Bush.

McCain’s support of campaign finance reform earns him heavy flak from his own party. The old Navy fighter pilot wants to eliminate the “soft money” that corrupts our political system, but he’s accused of playing into the hands of the Democrats. Appeal columnist Bob Thomas echoed his fellow Republicans last Wednesday when he equated soft money with free speech. “We can’t let anybody take away our free speech right to support candidates of our choice with as much money as we choose to give them…” he wrote. Well Bob, that means that some voters – the rich ones – are more equal than others, and it just isn’t fair.

McCain readily admits to being part of the system he’s attempting to overhaul. “It taints us all,” he confessed to the Boston Globe. Frankly, I hope McCain sticks to his guns on campaign finance reform.

Until now, challengers Bradley and McCain have foiled the odds makers and may have understood the primary voters’ mood better than front-runners Bush and Gore. We’ll soon know whether the underdogs have been successful. Stay tuned.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.