Driving to the 2000 Hoop

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WASHINGTON: Taking Al Gore to the hole in 2000 won't be easy. But if anyone has a shot at it, it's ex-basketball player and former senator Bill Bradley, who is smart as well as tall and telegenic, even if he was a Knick. Bradley opened his 2000 bid Friday by forming a presidential exploratory (read money-raising) committee and offering this in the way of a platform on his web site: "I would run to improve the opportunity for more Americans to live healthier, more economically secure, more personally fulfilling lives." Hmmm. Sounds good. To everyone, that is, but the vice president's handlers.

"Bradley is the challenger some Gore advisers fear most," says TIME Washington correspondent James Carney. "He's positioned himself as the candidate with a conscience, and as an outsider he can criticize Gore without seeming hypocritical." But that presumes Gore has much to fear from any Democrat. "The odds that Gore will win the nomination," says Carney, "are overwhelming." Perhaps acknowledging this, Bradley made his bid sound like a speaking tour -- "This is about telling the country what I believe." Which leaves him with another problem: After Bradley's almost-maybe candidacies in 1988 and 1992 and two not-exactly-best-selling books, America knows his name. But it hasn't yet shown much interest in what he has to say.