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Breaking News

Bradley Drops Out of Presidential Race, Pledges Support to Gore

Aired March 9, 2000 - 10:59 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go ahead and take live to West Orange, New Jersey, where we expect Bill Bradley, former senator Bill Bradley to bring an end to his presidential campaign.

Let's listen.

BILL BRADLEY (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to begin this morning with a discussion of my favorite books.

(LAUGHTER)

Actually, I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to thousands of delegates and supporters and friends and staff and others who have truly made this campaign a joyous journey. Especially, I want to thank the elected officials who had the courage to follow their ideals and support me in this race, and all the young people who infused the campaign with their energy and idealism. All those that I've mentioned have worked hard, took personal and political risks and given me their trust, and that is one of the great gifts of politics. I want to salute all of them, for they've been the backbone of this campaign, and I will never forget them.

And I especially want to express my appreciation to Ernestine, and I'm glad the country had a chance to...

(APPLAUSE)

I'm glad the country had a chance to get to know her passion, and her enthusiasm, and her conviction as I've known it throughout our marriage. And so I want to salute her, and I know that she's been a part of this journey in a very deep way. And so we're both here today to call it an end.

Following the results on Tuesday night, I've decided to withdraw from the Democratic race for president. And while I'm not -- and while I'm bowing out, I'm not releasing the delegates that are on my side. They've been loyal supporters and deserve to have their voices heard.

The vice president and I had a stiff competition, and he won. I congratulate him. He will be the nominee of the Democratic Party, and I will support him in his bid to win the White House, and this morning I called him and told him all that. It is the tradition of the Democratic Party to fight hard during primaries and then unify and close ranks behind the nominee as soon as the people have spoken. And now it is time for unity. Democrats know that the offerings of the likely Republican nominee and his party are the opposite of where our country should be headed. This country needs Democratic leadership, and I will work to ensure a Democratic White House and Congress. I will also continue to work for a new politics and for the values I laid out in the campaign.

What I do mean by "creating a new politics" in America? I mean a politics that's not polluted by money; a politics in which leaders speak from their core convictions and not from polls or focus groups; a politics that's about lifting people up, not tearing your opponent down; a politics that reflects the best in what is in us as Americans and not the worst; a politics that inspires us all to live up, or try live up, to our potential as citizens and human beings. I'm also talking about a politics that listens more closely to the voices that are not usually heard, a politics that has a special responsibility to leave no one behind. A president is president of all the people, wealthy as well as poor, but a president must listen more closely, because the voices of those who have been less fortunate are not as loud and insistent as those who have been more fortunate. Jefferson once divided politicians into two camps: those who secretly fear and distrust the people and think they know better, and those who consider the people the wisest guide of the public interest. That is what the new politics is all about, the oldest instinct in our democracy: trusting the people.

The values I cherish and laid out in this campaign are embodied in issues such as access to health care for all Americans, elimination of child poverty, bold steps to get guns off of our streets, genuine racial unity, education that works for everyone and fundamental campaign-finance reform. These are not and never have been political slogans for me. They are and always have been my convictions, convictions I do not change because an election is won or lost.

What makes this a special moment in America is that we can afford to do all these things now, especially since we're living in a time of unprecedented prosperity. And if we did these things, we would all be stronger.

As I said the other night, if we don't seize this moment, future generations will judge us harshly and say, they knew what was wrong, they had the means to make it better, and they did not act.

Abraham Lincoln once wrote that "the cause of liberty must not be surrendered at the end of one or even 100 defeats."

We have been defeated. But the cause for which I ran has not been. The cause of trying to create a new politics in this country, the cause of trying to fulfill our special promise as a nation, that cannot be defeated, by one or 100 defeats.

I want to leave this race the same way I got in. I remember that day, at community development center in Newark, New Jersey, new communities. And the same way I kicked it off in the fall in my hometown in Crystal City, Missouri. And that is with a minimum of politics as usual, and a maximum of respect for the American people, and their dreams. I believe these dreams can be the foundation of a new politics that can truly make our country soar.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADLEY: Thank you, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADLEY: Thank you very much. And now we will go to questions and answers.

QUESTION: Senator, you did not use the word "endorse" when talking about Al Gore, are you today endorsing him?

BRADLEY: I am giving him my support for the nomination, I will work for him. And that is what I'm saying.

QUESTION: is there a difference in your mind between support and...

BRADLEY: It is your call, I'm supporting him.

QUESTION: What's your call? BRADLEY: We have had this a number of times in the campaign, I'm not parsing words today, I'm saying very clearly, I have called him, I said I would support him, I intend to support him, and I intend to work for the Democratic ticket and for Democrats to regain control of the Congress.

QUESTION: Senator, plenty of other people are speculating on what went wrong, but what's your take, what hoped to your campaign?

BRADLEY: Well, I have a -- I have a choice here. To...

(LAUGHTER)

BRADLEY: ... to get into a lot of specifics, or not, and I think of actually Ernestine -- what's the name of that book?

ERNESTINE BRADLEY: "Victory"?

BRADLEY: No. No. No. "Remembrance of Times."

E. BRADLEY: Oh the Proust book, "Remembrance of Things Past."

BRADLEY: "Remembrance of Things Past," which is a seven-volume work by French writer named Proust; right?

That is how much I know about it. But, the point is that the seven volumes are written, and by the end of the seventh volume, he says "Well, now I think I really know what it is to write." And that might apply to this campaign, too.

QUESTION: Does that mean you might run again?

BRADLEY: Today, I am leaving the race. We are going to go on a vacation.

(CHEERING)

BRADLEY: And I want you to go on a vacation, too.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BRADLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: You have been loath during the process of the campaign to speak about your private feelings. I wonder if you might break from that today, and explain what this defeat means to you, personally, after so many years of expectation for you to run and become president?

BRADLEY: Well, for me personally, today means the, you know, the closing of this chapter. It is something that I believe I gave my full heart, mind, soul and energy to, and it didn't turn out. And as I said the other night, I mean, you win and lose, and this is a loss, and you move on.

My commitment to the things I fought for, to new politics, to the values that I cherish, to the things that I think exemplify those values, will never change, and I think that the people who were involved in this campaign feel that they were a part of something that was a little bigger than themselves. And one of the things that I've -- it's difficult to say because there's a paradox because you're running for president of the United States, but one of the things that I think our supporters and I had -- we -- there was not a lot of self- interest; this was really something directed toward things larger than an individual, even somebody running for president. And those commitments, and those convictions, and those values remain and always will remain.

And so today I see as exiting the campaign and moving on, working to try to support Democrats, and then the future will take care of itself.

QUESTION: Will you run for president again?

BRADLEY: That's the second time that was asked. I'm going on vacation.

(LAUGHTER)

Larry.

QUESTION: Senator, you built your campaign around straight talk. I was wondering if you would give us some straight talk today about your feelings about the race that Gore ran. It is clear at times you were upset about some of his tactics (OFF-MIKE).

BRADLEY: Well, I think I was very direct when I felt that I needed to be direct about the tactics in the campaign. I thought that there were distortions and negativity. And I hope and I would expect -- I hope that he'll run a better campaign in the general election.

QUESTION: But Senator, you said that you're going to work in support for a man that your basically spent a lot of your campaign characterizing as a lying, flip-flopping, former conservative who should shouldn't be entrusted with presidency. How do you reconcile (OFF-MIKE)?

BRADLEY: I've never used either one of those words. I know that some of you pushed me hard to use them, but I never did.

QUESTION: You said he distorted, he's flip-flopped, he was (OFF- MIKE) conservative...

BRADLEY: I didn't say...

QUESTION: How do you reconcile that?

BRADLEY: I was making comments about the things that took place in the course of the political campaign, and I was calling it like I saw it. I believe that a Democratic president can do more for this country than a Republican president, and he has my full support.

QUESTION: With all due respect, one follow-up, sir. How do -- why shouldn't voters view this as just another example of the old- style politics as usual, which your campaign was supposed to be the very antithesis of?

BRADLEY: Because it's not. I've been very direct in saying that I felt that there were times where there was distortion and negativity, and I'm very direct about that. I also am direct about the need to have a Democratic president, and that's why today I give the vice president my support.

QUESTION: Senator...

BRADLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Is today -- is the result of the primaries and the way the vice president won that, is that proof that the old politics is still powerful. Is this a victory for the old politics, the outcome?

BRADLEY: Well, it certainly shows that you -- when you do battle with entrenched power that it's very difficult. And indeed, I think that that's what the story of the campaign was.

QUESTION: Senator, if I can ask a question, you talked about a campaign not polluted by money, that it's a new politics you're going into. Both political parties have said they're going to do everything they can to raise all the money they can with soft money. So, how can that pollution, at least in this campaign, exasperate (ph)...

BRADLEY: It's going to be very difficult, very difficult until you get fundamental campaign-finance reform. And...

QUESTION: It won't happen this year.

BRADLEY: I think it would be very unlikely to happen this year, and that's unfortunate, because the, you know, the fact is that there will be soft money raised, a lot of money raised, and my hope is that afterwards there will be a major effort to get campaign-finance reform.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BRADLEY: Well, I believe that the people who stood as delegates for me are people I have deep commitments to. As human beings they put themselves on the line. I'm going to stay with them. I'm also going to stay and speak for the values that I believe and the issues that I championed in this campaign. I'm going to do that throughout this campaign and into the future. And that includes, between now and the convention and the November election.

QUESTION: Senator, there was a point in the campaign of insisting in recent weeks that Vice President Gore would be a wounded candidate because of the 1996 campaign finance. The implication made is that you would be a stronger candidate in the fall. I wonder how you feel about that now since you are going to be campaigning for him, and the ads to be next fall, Republican ads, showing some, perhaps, some of your comments?

BRADLEY: Um-hmm. Well, I think that is within the vice president's capacity to change. And I think he began to do that the other day talking, but, I mean, I think that he needs to do it more. And I do think that he needs to remove that issue, by opening up on what happened in 1996. I haven't changed my view on that.

QUESTION: Senator, what was the nature of your -- of the vice president's response to you this morning, and would you consider the possibility of a vice presidential...

BRADLEY: Um, I don't -- I don't -- I don't share publicly exchanges between the vice president and me, the president and me, or even a cabinet official and me. Never have and won't.

I think that the answer to your second question is no. I mean, I have said that all along. I have said, no, I will not be a candidate for vice president.

QUESTION: Senator...

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: What role do you see yourself playing at the convention this summer?

BRADLEY: I don't see, right now, it is -- those are details that will have to be worked out next couple months. QUESTION: Senator -- the -- Senator McCain is going to be suspending his campaign later today. I was wondering what your thoughts are about what he brought to the process, what kind of contribution he made to the dialogue, and, what are your feelings, of -- about those contributions?

BRADLEY: Well, I think when we stood next to each other in Clairemont, New Hampshire and shook hands, and said that if we were nominees there would be no more soft money, that we were, that we were putting national interests above partisan interests, and even above self-interests. And I think that that was an important moment.

I think that the forces of reform are alive and well in this country. And I believe that he tapped into that. And he -- he is ending his campaign today, same day that I'm ending my campaign. And it shows how difficult it is to run against entrenched power in this country, whether you are running against the entrenched power of a Republican Party, out of office, or certainly whether you are running against entrenched power of Democratic Party, in control of the White House.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BRADLEY: I don't know. I am not going to get into all that.

QUESTION: Senator.

QUESTION: Senator.

QUESTION: Senator.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: What did your wife just say.

BRADLEY: She said she liked your beard, Jim.

(LAUGHTER)

BRADLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The governorship of New Jersey opens up next year...

(LAUGHTER)

BRADLEY: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Do you see yourself in such a position?

BRADLEY: I think Dick Cote (ph) should run for governor of New Jersey.

(APPLAUSE)

BRADLEY: Not me. That office has got Cote's name written all over it. He already had one, OK.

QUESTION: You said you hope the vice president would run a better campaign in the fall. Do you feel you will be prepared to speak candidly about it if he is not running that kind of a campaign?

BRADLEY: Yes, I think that I will say what I feel.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) staff has talked a lot about the external forces that need to be changed, running against (OFF-MIKE) power, the John McCain factor, but what do you think is lacking in you as a candidate that the voters didn't respond to?

BRADLEY: What was my biggest mistake, you mean?

QUESTION: No.

BRADLEY: What they didn't respond to?

QUESTION: Or if you want to answer that one.

BRADLEY: I think that -- I think that we didn't really get across the extent to which this was not a campaign of self-interest, quite frankly, and I think that's what we didn't get across.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

BRADLEY: Well, that was a campaign -- people who came to support me came to support me, like many of those in this room, because they truly believed in what we were trying to do in terms of the goodness of the American people, in terms of the need for a new politics, in terms of the issues that we thought illustrated the values that I espouse and that millions of people in this country held. And maybe we could have done a better job of getting across that aspect of it. And I think that might have been where we had our deepest failure.

QUESTION: Are you ready -- ready for round two.

BRADLEY: OK, well, now what I want to do, I want to thank all of you for coming, and I want to show you a couple things.

First, I think it's important that those who travel, those who were with us all this time on the buses in Iowa and in the buses in New Hampshire...

KAGAN: We've been listening to former Senator Bill Bradley as he officially brings to an end his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination. He said he will still continue to work for new politics, which includes his themes of campaign-finance reform, and he also said he now supports Vice President Al Gore in his quest for the Democratic nomination. He says in general he will support and work for the Democratic ticket, and he does not want to run as a vice-presidential candidate.

For more perspective on this, we bring in our Jeff Greenfield, who is standing by in New York.

Jeff, interesting choice of words, the former senator saying he supports Al Gore but you really didn't hear the word "endorse." What's the significance of that?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Actually, I think it was deliberate. What he's saying -- in fact what he said specifically in this press conference was that there were distortions of his record, there was negativity. What he's saying is Al Gore, in his view, would be a much preferable choice than George W. Bush, but he is not going to put his endorsement, his seal of approval, on the kind of campaign that Al Gore ran, and he's saying he hopes Al Gore will run a better campaign.

His emphasis on supporting the Democrats reminds me a little of what Ronald Reagan did in 1976, when he lost a very close battle for the nomination to President Ford, and he quite specifically said, I will support the platform and the Congress. Bradley went further than that; he's going to back Al Gore, but endorsement is a word he's not yet ready to use.

KAGAN: So do you think this is the last we've heard of Bill Bradley?

GREENFIELD: You know, one of his top aides said something very interesting to me that I didn't pick up on, that in the closing days of the campaign when Senator Bradley knew it was all over, he kept talking to particularly young audiences about dealing with failure. And he talked about his first days as a New York Knick, when as a guard, when they put him the guard position, he had flopped, essentially. And so he went back mid -- after the season was over, practiced, practiced, practiced, took on a different position, small forward, and helped bring the Knicks to their first championship. Now, if you listen to that, and I'm not a psychologist, neither is this campaign adviser, but he thought he was picking up at least the possibility that Bradley was saying, I'm going to learn how to do this better, the way I learned to play basketball better, and I may be back.

The problem, however, is unlike, again, Reagan in '76, Bradley didn't win a single primary or caucus, so it's a long way to go before he, I think, becomes a credible candidate given what happened this last time.

KAGAN: Well, and to take that analogy one step further, does that mean you come back as a presidential candidate or you come back in a new position?

GREENFIELD: No, I think when you've been senator for 18 years what -- I mean, if you want to read into that -- I'm just pointing this out because one of Bradley's closest aides did -- it sounds to me he means he'll be back in the contest.

But, you know, when you look at the what-if's, there are -- we are already seeing the analysis, the AFL-CIO endorsement of Gore, the heart story, the failure to respond in Iowa to the farmer whose flood insurance Bradley actually did vote for but the vice president said he didn't, but when you look back on that, there are two other major things. One, sitting vice presidents tend to get their party's nomination no matter what, especially in an administration as popular within its party. And second, the other question is, did Bill Bradley understand what it means to be in a campaign? A campaign is a term borrowed from the military. It means a battle. And Bill Bradley said all along he wanted to run a different kind of campaign, but it may be that if you are unwilling to engage your opponent, you're not going to be successful no matter what.

KAGAN: Jeff Greenfield, thank you.

Meanwhile, as -- the picture that we see while we talk to our analysts here is still from West Orange, New Jersey. It's Bill Bradley passing out gifts to those who have been with him on the bus, so to speak, in these past months.

And as we talk about these past months and what went wrong, want to bring in our Bill Schneider.

Bill, it was just a couple of months ago that the Bill Bradley campaign for president seemed like the hottest thing in America. The reporters today tried to coax out of the former senator what went wrong, and he didn't really seem to have any answers. In your opinion, what went wrong with what was once a very hot campaign?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he did talk about the difficulty of fighting entrenched power. There are lots of small things, but forget those things: Washington, did he spend too much time in Iowa, Washington state.

Look, what Bill Bradley tried to do was mount a campaign against Clintonism. What he was saying was, the Democratic Party under Clinton had lost its ambition, it used to be party that did big things, that was a party devoted to great enterprises for great purposes at home and abroad, and, under Clinton, it sort of lost all that ambition. Well, what the senator, the former senator just said was: We can afford to do all these things now. We can afford to do something about child poverty, and health care, and campaign-finance reform because the country is prosperous. Well, it failed because the Democrats, in a way, got real. Under Bill Clinton they said, we know we can't do those things, we don't want go back to the Democratic Party that failed with all these big ideas and big plans; we just want to take a step-by-step approach.

I think the message the Democrats gave in all those primaries, everyone one of which Bradley lost, was, Clintonism survives, we are all new Democrats now.

KAGAN: Jeff, do you want to comment on that?

GREENFIELD: I think Bill's -- hit on such an important point, I want to take us back and look historically at when successful, or semi-successful, challenges within a party have worked. Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 to William Howard Taft, he'd been a two-term president and Taft had veered off that popular course. Gene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy had a war in Vietnam and a nation divided by race and generations to fight. Ronald Reagan was challenging an unelected president in 1976, and Ted Kennedy in 1980 was challenging a President Carter who was presiding over inflation, recession and hostages.

When you're asking your party to move away from their administration, the question that party members will ask is, why should I, and I'm not sure, as Bill suggested, they ever had a reason. Clintonism, for Democrats, seemed to be working. KAGAN: We're going to have you -- stand by. Jeff, we're going to have you stand by, Bill stand by with that thought, too.

Of course, Bill Bradley is not the only presidential candidate dropping out of the race today. Also, in Sedona, Arizona, Republican John McCain will do the same.

Our Jonathan Karl is traveling with McCain, and he brings us a look ahead. I think it's about a half hour from now we expect to hear from the senator -- John.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Daryn.

He's been in seclusion in his cabin, just locked up there with his aides and with his wife, Cindy. He's going to be coming down here in about a half an hour. He's going to announce that he is suspending his campaign for the presidency; that's what his senior aides are telling us.

Now, I spoke to Howard Opinsky, his press secretary, who cautions, don't read too much into that word "suspending," because it's really a matter of the fact that this campaign is really effectively over for John McCain. Suspending merely means that he hangs on to his delegates, in Opinsky's formulation, he hangs on to delegates, he can take those delegates into the Republican Convention this summer in Philadelphia, and use those delegates as a way to fight for his campaign-finance-reform agenda. Because what we're being told is that when McCain comes out here in about a half an hour, he will not issue so much a withdrawal statement but a call to arms, a call to arms to his supporters, reminding them that although his campaign for the presidency is over, his crusade, what he calls crusade, to reform the political system, in his words, is only just beginning -- Daryn.

KARL: Jonathan Karl in beautiful Sedona, Arizona.

Jeff, let's bring you back in here. Compare for us, if you will, the difference between what the Democratic Party faces today with Bradley's withdrawal and the Republican Party with McCain's withdrawal.

GREENFIELD: Well, the first thing is that McCain had some success; he won in New Hampshire, he won in Michigan. We're now finding out in New York that the race was much, much closer than the delegate-split indicated. So, I think John McCain can say not only did he pose a frontal challenge to his party's presumptive nominee but that he actually persuaded a lot of people to come with him, and he demonstrated a very strong possibility of getting independents and Democrats.

Moreover, John McCain, because he was more successful, can make the argument that other insurgents have made in history, saying, look, the first time an insurgent makes a new case within his party, that insurgent almost never wins; it takes time, and I'm in it not just for my own sake but for the cause that I'm talking about: campaign-finance reform and a different definition of who the Republican Party is, and less reliance on the religious right. It's going to be tough for Republicans to buy that, but I think McCain's going to make that point both today and right on -- right on through the rest of the season

KAGAN: And so, Bill Schneider, does that then make John McCain a stronger figure within the Republican Party than we'll see Bill Bradley be within the Democrats, because he brings more to the party?

SCHNEIDER: He does, he had more votes, he won some primaries, he did very well in this campaign, and he will have, I think, more to say.

Look the McCain voters are up for grabs because many of them were not Republicans, many of them were Democrats and Independents, who simply crossed over to vote in the Republican primary, especially in those February primaries when there were no Democratic contests on the ballot.

So both Gore and Bush ate competing for the McCain vote. Bradley, I think, is supporting Al Gore, and his vote will be folded into Gore's vote.

KAGAN: Right now, we have with us Jeanne Meserve, who was inside, she was inside the room in West Orange, new jersey, while Bill Bradley was making that announcement.

Jeanne, what did you take from his announcement?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it was interesting how he parsed the words. He wouldn't say that he endorsed Al Gore, he said that Gore had his support. He said he would work for his nomination because he believes in the Democratic president, rather than a Republican one. However, he did say that he would feel free to criticize Gore if Gore did things in his campaign, with which Bradley disagreed.

He, obviously, continues to press for this sort of reform in American politics, that he has talked about throughout this campaign, specifically, campaign finance reform. He said he would not be a vice presidential candidate, but he very clearly, left the door open to a presidential bid.

We saw from Bill Bradley, today, the sort of humor that those of us who have traveled with him have seen quite often, but the general public has been unaware of. There were several quite amusing moments there, and emotional ones.

Before it began, Ernestine Bradley's daughter had to be taken from room she was so upset. She did come in later after she had composed herself.

At the end, you saw him poking fun at the press corps, those of who have traveled around America with him as he sought the Democratic nomination. The first thing were some throat pastiles. You may have noticed Bill Bradley is often rattling something around in his mouth before he makes a speech. He says these are his favorite lozenges.

He also handed each of as a box from Tiffany's. I don't get these very often, let me open it up and I show you what he gave us all. Let me see. It is -- oh, a little key ring, and it appears to have a running shoe at the end, I guess for all the running we did around after him.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: Very nice. Nice to be thought of, and as you said, it is not every day a girl gets a blue box from Tiffany's. So, Jeanne Meserve, enjoy that. Jeanne Meserve enjoy that. Jeanne Meserve covering the end of the Bill Bradley campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

As you saw live here on CNN, the former senator announcing today, he is ending that quest and he will support Vice President Al Gore.

As we said, he is not the only presidential candidate to drop out today. We expect to hear from Senator John McCain, from Sedona, Arizona at the top of the hour. You will see that, live.

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