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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK

World: Americas

Game plan for the White House

Bill Bradley hopes he can outlast Al Gore

By BBC Washington Correspondent Paul Reynolds

By now, Vice President Al Gore had hoped he would have a clear run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

But Bill Bradley, a tall, lanky and laid back former basketball star and United States senator is also in the race.

And in a carefully planned campaign, he hopes first to slow the Gore momentum and then overtake him by the end of the year.

Distinguishing himself

The problem for Bradley, though, is how to present himself as something different.

[ image: Al Gore's lack of charisma helps Mr Bradley]
Al Gore's lack of charisma helps Mr Bradley
He and Al Gore are rather like characters from the Mr Men children's books - Mr Earnest and Mr Worthy - or, if one is rude, Mr Dull and Mr Boring.

It is probably only Al Gore's lack of charisma that has allowed Bill Bradley to make this challenge. But what can Bradley himself offer?

The answer at the moment is "character". This was the word I heard most often at a recent breakfast meeting in New York City attended by 600 'Women for Bradley'.

It was the word used by journalist and author Anna Quindlen, who announced her support for Bill Bradley at the breakfast.

Bradley, she told me, did not need to consult opinion polls about what he should do. His "character" would guide him.

Midwestern roots

Mr Bradley was born and brought up in a small town in Missouri and has the quiet demeanour of a Midwesterner.

He was good at basketball early on, but sought academic as well as sporting success and went to Princeton University. He always aimed high, on court and in life.

He picked up a gold medal when he captained the American basketball team in the 1964 Olympics and then took time out again as a Rhodes Scholar at Worcester College, Oxford.

But basketball reclaimed him and for years he was a member of the famous New York Knicks before he was elected to the United States Senate from New Jersey for 18 years.

Name recognition is not a problem for him.

Plans for the presidency

[ image: A towering figure]
A towering figure
Bradley towered over the women at the breakfast, as he had towered over his fellow students on the lawns at Oxford.

He moved from table to table, chatting quietly and made a speech that spoke in broad terms about his hopes for America and the role of women .

He rambled a bit. He is not a natural orator and will need to add punch, power and policies if his challenge is to amount to anything.

I asked him the inevitable question: Why did he want to be president?

He gave a typically modest answer. He feels that he could offer leadership to make a difference.

Long campaign trail

Bill Bradley has a long way to go. His game plan is to spend the summer working the key election states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and California.

Then, in the autumn, he will start developing specific policies as he seeks to demonstrate that Mr Gore cannot beat the likely Republican contender Governor George W. Bush of Texas.

Mr Bradley hopes to emerge as the alternative.

I formed the view that he is a candidate with potential, but I did not detect the buzz that George W. Bush generates.

And Al Gore is in such a strong position within the party that he will have to falter badly if Bill Bradley is to have a chance.

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