As He Readies for Debates, Bradley Jukes Left

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As they prepare for a series of debates that will test the Democratic partyís stomach for liberalism, Al Gore and Bill Bradley are carving out their platforms. A week after Bradley one-upped Gore's plan to insure poor children by proposing $65 billion to provide health insurance to every American, the two presidential contenders squared off on child poverty. Gore, moving so close to the center he could easily high-five George W., published a proposal on Tuesday that focuses on strengthening families, mostly by attacking deadbeat dads. Bradley countered Thursday with a proposal that, if passed, would be the most ambitious antipoverty legislation since LBJ's Great Society. In a New York Times interview, Bradley evoked '60s radicalism, saying "We are in a time of unprecedented prosperity, and yet there are still nearly 14 million children who live in poverty. I think there is a broad consensus that we need to change that."

But while the speeches shout '60s Democrats, the plan is taken straight from the '90s GOP. "If you look at what he's doing, they're not '60s mechanisms, they're mostly tax breaks for families," says TIME chief political correspondent Eric Pooley. The comprehensive $2.6 billion plan would include increases in the earned income tax credit and the minimum wage, as well as more funding for Head Start and providing localities with large block grants for child care. Bradley may want to emphasize the tax-break aspects over the lefty-sounding rhetoric ó he could be damaging his chances with his party's center. "Itís an area where Gore will probably attack him," Pooley says.

Meanwhile, Gore finally played his ace in the hole with the party's left: the green vote. Gore's book "Earth in the Balance," published while he was campaigning for the vice presidency, scored big points with liberals. On Thursday, the VP proposed a vast increase in limits on offshore oil drilling in California and Florida. The proposal came with the proclamation that an environmental package would be central to Gore's campaign. As Bradley grapples to position himself as the candidate of the left, he'd better be ready for a green thumb to the eye.