It May Be Unfair, but Bradley's Heart Hurts Him

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In the Iowa caucuses, the name of the game is momentum. And Thursday's revelation that Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley has experienced multiple reoccurences of an irregular heartbeat is a stick in the spokes of his resurgent campaign in the Hawkeye State. "This is exactly what he didn't want," says TIME political correspondent Eric Pooley, reporting from Iowa. The news emerged just when Bradley was waging an eleventh-hour comeback, in which he unleashed Daniel Patrick Moynihan to shore up the state's elderly vote and regional favorite Bob Kerrey to mobilize the party establishment. "Right when he needs to get messages across," says Pooley, "his heart condition is grabbing all of the headlines."

While doctors say the condition, called atrial fibrillation, isn't serious — former President Bush is a fellow sufferer — voters tend to take a conservative approach to a candidate's health. In addition, the revelation could hurt Bradley's attempts to paint himself as a more honest, open alternative to Al Gore. While John McCain, Bradley's cross-party fellow underdog, has made his physical and mental health an open book, Bradley won't reveal any medical records before 1996. The former Knick has taken the stance that the episodes are minor and that he'll notify the media if he needs to see a doctor or has to alter his campaign schedule for health reasons. "[Bradley's campaign] had been hoping they wouldn't have to disclose this," says Pooley. "But by not talking about it, he ceded control of the timing, and it's come back to haunt him at a terrible moment."