Possibly more important than its appeal to liberals is the proposal's potential to shore up the veep's grip on the middle, which he could eventually wrangle over with George W. Bush. The Democratic primary debates promise to pit Bradley's $90 billion health care proposal against Gore's preschool plan. "Preschool is a fuzzier, more embraceable issue than health care for the poor," notes Dickerson. "America's just starting to realize that it trails the rest of the world in preschool; meanwhile, big health care plans are a tough sell, even among Democrats."
For proof of preschool's greater appeal, consider that while Bill Clinton's most famous domestic policy gaffe is his botched stab at health care reform, his tenfold expansion of Head Start's budget has been virtually unopposed. That's political currency for Gore, who's made an art form of denouncing the President's failures and taking credit for his successes. For Bradley, who's been playing catch-up since the campaign season began, Gore's proposal just widens the gap. Where's Willis Reed when he needs him?