CRYSTAL CITY, Mo. (AP) -- In this hamlet beside the Mississippi
River, Bill Bradley gathered today the snapshots of his Cinderella
youth and asked voters to follow him toward an American dream of
wiping out child poverty and providing health care for all.
"I feel an urgent need to seize this moment in history, to
strengthen the weak and to challenge the strong to lead us into our
full greatness as a nation," the Democratic presidential hopeful
beckoned during a fall kickoff rally staged to spell out a
candidacy that has been under way for months.
"Come with me. Let us walk toward that dream together."
Speaking at his old high school, the former New Jersey senator
struck themes that echo those raised by critics of his Democratic
rival, Vice President Al Gore.
Bradley shunned government's "trifling things" when the
economy soars but one in five children live in poverty, and 45
million Americans lack health insurance.
"I'm more interested in leadership than polls and politics,"
he said. "We will do fewer things, but they will be essential
things and we will do them more thoroughly."
"I believe we need a new kind of leadership," he said,
bringing the crowd to its feet. "A new kind of leadership, a
leadership that puts the people front and center, not the
The hometown crowd clearly loved him, frequently interrupting
Bradley's remarks with cheers and applause.
Striking a note for bipartisanship, Bradley recalled, with a
smile on his face, that his father was a Republican who worked with
Democrats to get the high school built. "We can do big jobs again
if we do them together," he said.
Earlier today, Bradley told ABC's "Good Morning America" that
he and Gore would be different kinds of presidents. "And I think
that flows from our life experience," he said.
On Tuesday, Bradley criticized Gore, a Tennessee senator's son
who spent much of his childhood in Washington, for not being
specific in his health care plans.
Bradley, a small-town banker's son and basketball boy wonder
came home to launch the critical next phase of his presidential
campaign among neighbors who always believed he belonged in the
White House. Pushing anew for campaign finance reforms, Bradley
said he wanted to restore public trust in politicians.
"I have a right to try to change that skepticism," Bradley
said. "I'm hoping that by Election Day, we will be choosing
between two people whom we esteem, not the candidate we can still
News cameras descended on this one-stoplight town (population
4,088) from as far away as Germany and Japan but today was a giant
Piled high in Republican Mayor Grant S. Johnston's office were
an odd assortment of the 5,000 cookies baked by "all the grandmas
and great-grandmas," as Lori Grass put it.
"All the way with Bill!" read one of the dozens of lawn signs
produced by a single postal clerk who volunteered eight hours and a
set of colored markers.
"He's such a stud," said Mike DeClue, a high school senior and
basketball player, who added that his coach makes the team run laps
past the lobby's trophy case, or "Bradley shrine."
The candidate promised to lead a twilight tour of his life's
landmarks: the old State Bank where his father, the president,
weathered the Great Depression without foreclosing on a single
homeowner; the weeded-over lot where the Pittsburgh Plate Glass
factory shut down the town's lifeblood when it closed in 1992; the
Little League field where Bradley and his integrated team learned
to field the racial discrimination of visiting teams.
A spot on the Princeton University basketball team proved to be
Bradley's ticket out. He went on to captain the gold medal-winning
U.S. team at the 1964 Olympics, study at Oxford, star for the New
York Knicks, then in the U.S. Senate.
At Bradley's side today was his wife of 25 years, Ernestine, 63.
Their 22-year-old daughter, Theresa Anne, is a college student and
studying overseas, aides said.
Bradley's team was buoyed by a weekend poll that showed that he
and Gore, the favorite of President Clinton and the Democratic
Party establishment, were running neck and neck in New Hampshire,
the first primary state, for the party's presidential nomination.
Having already proved his financial viability by amassing in the
first half of this year some $12 million in campaign donations to
Gore's $18 million, Bradley hopes to use detailed policy
announcements this fall -- on child poverty, universal health care,
the economy and foreign policy -- to overcome other surveys
suggesting he remains relatively unknown nationwide.
In the backyard of the squat, stone Taylor Avenue home he left
38 years ago but has maintained since his parents died, Bradley
remembered on Tuesday a time when he was anything but underdog.
"I had to shoot behind here; it was the rule," the balding,
6-foot-5 Bradley said, pointing to the back edge of a
parking-spot-sized court, far from the hoop.
His own rule."A lot of kids were shorter than I. It wouldn't be fair for me
to pull up. Couldn't take advantage."
His earnestness is for real, agreed Crystal City old-timers, and
makes him the best man for the White House.
"We knew him as a person. He's honest. Honesty's very
important. It's the main thing, really," said Norma Dorsey, 77, as
she waited her turn at Rosie's Hair Creations on Main Street.
Down three blocks at Gordon's Stoplight Drive-In, retired
glassworkers Alvin Rouggly and Bud Sweeney whiled away their
morning like always -- nursing 89-cent mugs of coffee, trading dirty
jokes and griping about taxes.
"Bradley don't have that gift of gab," said Sweeney, 85. "Not
like Gore. Not like a used-car salesman who promises you the moon
but they don't deliver."
Owner and fry cook Curt Grass, 46, said Bradley and Gore ought
to team up. "There's a ticket the other side can't beat."