Gore's Leftward Drift Could Haunt Him

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Is Al Gore's campaign shipping water that could sink it later on? Bill Bradley's challenge from the left was always going to force the vice president to tilt the wheel in that direction, but Wednesday night's debate was a reminder that painting Gore as holier than Bradley in the eyes of the left wing of the Democratic party involves taking positions that might haunt him in the presidential race. Gore, who remains the strong favorite despite Bradley's lead in New Hampshire, took a stronger stand than both his rival and the Clinton administration on the issue of gays in the military. He vowed that he wouldn't appoint any officer to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who didn't support the right of gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

That position — essentially supported by Bradley — will certainly be applauded in Democratic core constituencies who were appalled by the Clinton administration's retreat to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But it set alarm bells ringing in military circles, as a number of former commanders rushed critical comments into print. Elsewhere in the debate, the candidates sparred testily on health care, campaign finance and their respective voting records, in a tone of civility akin to the cursory touching of gloves required of boxers entering their final round — and sometimes with all the trash-talking of a prefight media conference: Bradley, commenting on Gore's appeal to New Hampshire voters to vote against the current favorite, sneered, "Your come-from-behind underdog speech brings tears to my eyes." Gore shot back with "I hope my come-from-behind underdog victory brings tears to your eyes." But there may be tears all around come November if Democratic primary promises are turned into Republican cudgels.