Why Al 'Internet' Gore Can't Afford to Play Dirty

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Thursday, while the GOP presidential candidates gathered in New Hampshire to engage in debate and argue about the size of tax breaks, a less kind, considerably less gentle Democratic race was beginning to show its face. Campaigning in Iowa, Al Gore addressed a group of senior citizens, and warned them that Bill Bradley's sweeping health care reforms would "deny care to millions." Bradley, in an uncharacteristic flash of emotion, refuted Gore's claim, calling it a "distortion" of the truth. Bradley went even further in his attack, saying Gore is lying about Bradley's record and misrepresenting his policy proposals.

Who knew these guys, hereto far from firebrands, were looking for a knock-down, drag-out fight? "Gore and Bradley have so many similar ideas, and at a time when voters seem to be yearning for someone new, and looking for a fresh start, Gore really has no choice but to highlight any differences he can find in his and Bradley's positions," says TIME Washington correspondent Karen Tumulty. Even if that means risking the loss of a few voters — and maybe getting into a few well-timed battles. "As Bradley runs to the left of Gore, the vice president is going to capitalize on the differences between Bradley's record and where he stands today," hoping to capitalize on any glaring inconsistencies. Of course, Bradley is free to do the same, and given Gore's history of, well, exaggeration — inventor of the Internet, the inspiration for "Love Story," the savior of the Love Canal — Gore should make sure he doesn't provide the former basketball star with too much ammunition. "Bradley has made it clear all along," says Tumulty, "that one of the things he learned in the NBA is when to throw an elbow."