Bradley lashes out at Gore, and McCain, on environment

By Bob Hohler and Susan Milligan, Globe Staff, 2/26/2000

VERETT, Wash. - Facing obstacles at every turn, Bill Bradley yesterday coupled his campaign against Vice President Al Gore with an attack against a second foe who threatens his presidential candidacy: Arizona Senator John McCain.

While Gore campaigned in Cleveland, painting an alarming picture of how seniors would fare under Bradley's health plan, Bradley darted about Washington state, casting himself as more trustworthy than Gore and a better reformer than McCain.

Bradley is in the midst of a six-day blitz of Washington, gambling that he can attract enough attention by Tuesday's nonbinding primary to salvage his embattled campaign for the Democratic nomination. But McCain, who drained much of the independent support that Bradley had counted on in New Hampshire, is poised to hurt Bradley again in Washington by inspiring independents and Democrats alike to cast Republican ballots.

''McCain is a reformer and I'm a reformer,'' Bradley told about 100 environmental activists in Seattle. ''We both want campaign finance reform, no question about it. But when it comes to the environment, there is a vast difference between John McCain and me.''

Bradley lashed out at McCain for describing federal funding for salmon restoration projects as ''pork-barrel.'' Salmon restoration is a major issue in the Pacific Northwest.

''When you swim against the current by saying efforts to save salmon are pork barrel, I think you fundamentally misunderstand the environmental imperative and the need to preserve that which is held most dear by the people of the state of Washington,'' Bradley said.

In ripping McCain, Bradley joined Senator Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican who is supporting Texas Governor George W. Bush, in denouncing McCain's ''pork-barrel'' comment.

But Bradley also added a new barb to his attack on Gore's environmental record, suggesting that Gore has ''never seen a dam he didn't like.''

Bradley was accompanied by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, the only Democratic governor to support him. Kitzhaber said he endorsed Bradley because he considered him more committed to environmental protections, though he said Bradley has clearly been hurt by McCain's surge.

''McCain has just seized all the media attention and pushed Bradley back to Page 8,'' Kitzhaber said. ''Bradley clearly needs a win here to get himself back on the front page.''

Meanwhile, Gore told seniors in Cleveland that Bradley's health care plan ''won't give a penny of help to anybody unless they pay $800 out of their own pockets first.''

Gore's depiction of the plan drew a murmur of concern from the residents of the Eliza Bryant Senior Center, which serves African-American elderly. ''I think that's a flawed plan,'' Gore said.

The vice president said Bradley's proposal would eliminate Medicaid and replace it with a health care voucher averaging $150 a patient.

''The problem with that is, here in Ohio, there's not a single company that offers coverage for anything close to $150,'' Gore continued. ''What you get is an alternative that doesn't work in Ohio. Ohio's left out.''

Bradley's spokesman, Eric Hauser, accused Gore of habitually misrepresenting Bradley's proposal. ''It doesn't matter where he travels, the vice president can't seem to tell the truth about the Bradley health plan,'' Hauser said. ''When your proposal is inferior, you resort to distortions to mask your shortcomings.''

Hauser added, ''Scaring senior citizens is not a way to lead.''

Gore has made targeted attacks on Bradley's health plan to selected constituencies. He told editorial writers in San Francisco recently that Bradley's plan would hurt poor AIDS patients.

Gore also promoted his plan to spend $35 billion over 10 years for coverage of prescription drugs for seniors, an idea Gore calls ''Medicoverage.'' The money is included in the Clinton administration's proposed budget for catastrophic care. Gore's idea would not require a new appropriation under the administration budget; it simply details how Gore wants to spend it.

Bradley has accused Gore of stealing his prescription plan, and Hauser said Gore has failed to tell voters that his proposal ''doesn't kick in until 2006.''

Gore directed some of his criticism yesterday at Bush and McCain, whom Gore depicted as ultraconservatives who would ''weaken Medicare.''

''Both of them are courting the extreme right wing,'' Gore said. ''There is not a choice on the Republican side.''

The vice president also picked up the endorsement yesterday of Oakland, Calif., Mayor Jerry Brown, a former Democratic governor of California. Brown is now an independent.