Why Bradley's Abortion Attack Won't Work

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Stranded square behind the large eight ball that Al Gore's campaign has become since Iowa, Bill Bradley has begun casting about for something, anything, to differentiate himself. His solution — to hit Gore with that litmus test for Democrats: Are you a staunch defender of Roe v. Wade? Bradley says there's only one Democrat in this race who's been a consistent proponent of broad abortion rights, and it isn't the guy who lives at the Naval Observatory. Exhibit A for Bradley: a letter Gore wrote to a constituent while a senator in 1987 in which he said abortion was "arguably the taking of a human life." Exhibit B: a 1984 letter in which he told another constituent that it was his "deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong."

While the tactic has produced results — Gore was forced to acknowledge that he's changed his opinion on the issue — it may not amount to much. Bradley's hope is that he can take what is essentially a small matter and inflate it to portray Gore as an inconsistent, untrustworthy politician, which could be a tough row to hoe. While Gore may have differed from his party during his early years in Congress, people are permitted to change their views. And it wasn't as though he got religion on the matter just last week.

And, in fact, abortion-rights groups like NOW and NARL say they're equally comfortable with Gore and Bradley. And this is Bradley's problem in a nutshell: He's perceived to be essentially the same candidate as Gore, only less so. Despite the increasing bitterness of their exchanges, the two Democrats hold basically the same views — and Gore's got all the advantages of incumbency to boot. Which leaves Bradley trailing in the polls as the New Hampshire primary approaches, and still looking for an effective angle.