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Gore, Bradley meet in first debate

Updated:
HANOVER, N.H. (AP) -- Vice President Al Gore is getting one of
the debates he's been demanding against Democratic rival Bill
Bradley. But Gore's ranking supporter in the leadoff primary state
said it wasn't likely to change many minds.

"You don't usually find a smoking gun in a debate," Gov.
Jeanne Shaheen said in an interview Tuesday. "Not very often are
they the thing that changes somebody's mind ... particularly this
early."

Gore and Bradley meet for an hour tonight at Dartmouth College
in something short of the head-on debates the vice president wants
weekly. This one is a televised town hall forum, with the
candidates answering questions from an audience.

Although Gore said in advance that the format takes the edge
off, he didn't scrimp on preparation. He discussed likely questions
with a team of New Hampshire advisers on Tuesday and was devoting
much of today to warm-ups. One aim was to get Gore's answers down
to 90 seconds each.

Bradley was preparing, too, after a campaign walk this morning
in Hanover.

As he shook hands along Main Street, a handful of sign-toting
supporters yelled: "Two. Four. Six. Eight. Who are we going to
nominate? Bradley!"

Speaking briefly with reporters, Bradley played down the
importance of the debate. "Every day is an important day when
you're campaigning," he said.

Gore issued his debate challenge -- usually the tactic of a
candidate trying to catch the leader -- during a campaign makeover
after Bradley began carving into his once overwhelming lead. "I'm
campaigning like I'm behind," Gore said. "I'm campaigning like an
underdog all over the country."

He's making headway in national polls, widening his lead over
Bradley and narrowing his deficit against Texas Gov. George W.
Bush, the prime Republican candidate for 2000.

Gore's advisers credit that in part to a more relaxed, less
rigid campaign style. Outside the State House in Concord on
Tuesday, he lingered after an anti-drug rally to shake hands, chat
and slap hands with youngsters as aides tried to usher him to the
motorcade.

Shaheen said the constraints of the vice presidency have been a
problem for Gore, but that he is getting around them now.

But New Hampshire polls rate Bradley even or narrowly ahead, and
the vice president said Friday that he probably is behind here in
the state that will hold the first presidential primary on Feb. 1.

"We've got three months left -- that's an eternity," Shaheen
said.

She said there's been a favorable initial reaction to Bradley
"because he's a new face."

"It's a little too early to see whether that translates into
real votes," the governor said.

Style isn't Gore's only campaign change; he has sharpened his
line against Bradley, saying the former New Jersey senator is
running as a "left-of-center" insurgent and criticizing him for
once hinting at running for president as an independent in 1996.

"Clearly, attacking is a strategy," said Eric Hauser,
Bradley's spokesman.

He said Gore has the advantage of experience in campaign
debates, but Bradley is ready to counter him.

After the Democrats, five of the six Republican candidates --
absent the front-running Bush -- will have another turn at debating
Thursday night. They met last Friday without drawing sharp lines on
major issues, save for a push on campaign finance reform by Sen.
John McCain of Arizona, on which he'd just lost in the Senate.

Steve Forbes, conservative activist Gary Bauer, Sen. Orrin Hatch
of Utah and radio commentator Alan Keyes round out the lineup for
the 90-minute GOP forum.

Bush skipped those debates, citing schedule conflicts, but as
the front-runner he also is unwilling to let the others have at him
so soon. He has agreed to a debate in Manchester, N.H., on Dec. 2.

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