Many assume that Al Gore’s Democratic presidential nomination is a
foregone conclusion and regard Bill Bradley’s bid as in impossible
longshot. Bradley’s recent campaign successes, however, are causing some
skeptics to take a second look at his chances.

First, the fact that he is one of only two Democratic candidates
vying for the nomination cannot be overemphasized. The New York Times
reports that although many Democrats originally considered Bradley’s
campaign “a quixotic, even foolhardy, exercise,” they are now
backtracking because he is the only “alternative should the leading
candidate falter.”

Also turning some heads, including Gore’s, are Bradley’s surprisingly
productive fund-raising efforts: He raised $4.3 million the first
quarter of 1999. And, for what it’s worth, Bradley beat Gore 56 percent
to 44 percent in a Salt Lake County, Utah, Democrat straw poll.

Bradley also has some considerable strengths. He is regarded as
highly competent and of sound character, the latter attribute being
especially important in a post-scandal election.

Commentators tend to compare Bradley with Gore in terms of lacking
flair and dynamism. But that superficial analysis misses the mark. Where
Gore’s “yawn-factor” is a negative and even lends itself to boundless
humor at his expense, Bradley’s serenity may well be a plus for him: as
a sign of judiciousness, thoughtfulness and prudence. Plus Bradley,
unlike Gore, is not prone to embarrassing gaffes.

As Bradley’s star is slowly beginning to rise, Gore’s is starting to
dip. Everyone is aware of Gore’s principal challenge: to paint himself
with narrow enough brushstrokes to avoid the overwhelming personal
negatives that color the Clinton paint.

The real problem Gore faces in trying to distance himself from the
Clinton scandals is that he has passionately embraced every fiber of
Clinton’s scandalous being for the past six years. In fact, he has done
it with a defiant, in-your-face attitude.

Instead of steering clear of the scandals, Gore has parroted the
Clinton line of grossly trivializing them. Says Gore, “I think the
people of this country have made it clear that they want to focus on the
future, not on the past. What the president did in his personal life was
wrong, and he’s apologized, and people want to move on, and I’m focused
on the future.” If Gore truly wants to avoid being viewed as a robot, he
ought to quit talking like one.

Another Gorism: “The American people also want a person who holds the
same values they do, and I do.” Syllogism: Gore shares Clinton’s values
(as proven by his blind defense of Clinton); Gore shares the values of
the American people; therefore, the American people must also share
Clinton’s values. That’s cold. If that doesn’t insult the voters,
nothing will.

The scandals aren’t the only Clinton negative that may taint Gore.
Gore’s high-profile support of Clinton’s lamentable Kosovo policies may
also come back to bite him. Even if Clinton’s legendary luck extricates
him from the Balkans quagmire through some compromise with Slobo that is
spinable as a victory — and with Clinton everything is spinable — this
administration will have a considerable amount of explaining to do for
its extraordinary mishandling of the conflict.

In fairness, though, it must be conceded that even if Gore were
trying to distance himself from Clinton, his tenacious mentor would
probably make it impossible. Clinton views Gore’s election as a
referendum on his presidency and a neutralization of his scandals for
legacy purposes.

As to the things that matter most to him, such as himself, Clinton’s
a hands-on kind of guy. He has appointed himself Gore’s campaign manager
and is going to insinuate himself into every detail of the campaign,
just as surely as he has handpicked Serbian bombing targets. The irony
is that his smothering presence is likely to become a hangman’s noose
around Gore’s neck. The harder he squeezes, the more he will cut off
Gore’s political lifeblood — and unwittingly sabotage that ephemeral
legacy he is so desperately trying to salvage.

So Gore’s fate is only partially within his control. He is
irreversibly tied to the Clinton scandals and Kosovo, and how these twin
powder kegs are viewed in the near future will have a major impact on
his political fate.

My crystal ball is telling me that Al Gore’s chances to become the
next president are very slim and that Bradley, as the Democratic
nominee, would have a better chance of being elected. Happily, it is
also telling me that the Democratic powerbrokers are impervious to these

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