(Grinnell, IA) Grinnell College classics professor Gerry Lalonde is tired of politics as usual, and is hoping Bill Bradley’s challenge of Vice President Al Gore is more than “wishful thinking.”
“One can easily become cynical and believe this idea that the person who has the most money has the nomination sewed up,” Lalonde said. ” I don’t want to believe it and if there’s something I can do to disprove it, I want to do that.”
Lelonde was among a crowd of over 220 who met with Bradley on a Saturday morning in Grinnell’s Community Center. Lelonde pointedly asked Bradley about the seeming “pre-destination” of Gore, a candidate Lelonde — a registered democrat — will not support.
“I think he (Gore) is tainted by his association with the administration, especially in the last term. I don’t think he has shown himself to be an independent and thinking force of the sort that I potentially see in Bill Bradley,” Lelonde said.
With the dress and demeanor of a professor, the former New Jersey Senator touched on a wide variety of issues during his meeting in Grinnell, such as having public school teachers evaluate other teachers to “get rid of the deadwood” and letting voters cast their ballots via the Internet.
“It’s obvious that he’s done stuff other than politics and that he’s taught classes and he kind of spoke to the college students in a way that we could understand,” said Seth Gitter, a Grinnell student from Columbus, Ohio. “I’m into politics. I’m hopefully a political science major, and I’d like to volunteer in one of the campaigns…so I’m just looking and feeling out the fcandidates but so far, I think I like Bill Bradley the best…He actually said some things that are different from what alot of politicians are saying nowadays.”
Gitter and other students looked through old copies of Sports Illustrated which showed Bradley starring in the NBA for the New York Knicks. The memorabilia, including high school yearbooks, was the property of hometown friends of Bradley’s who drove from Crystal City, Missouri to campaign with their former neighbor.
“To us, it’s still Bill. Just as nice and down to earth as a guy could possibly be,” said Rolla Herbert. Herbert is six years older than Bradley and remembers him as a baby. The Herbert’s back door led, across their yards, to the Bradley’s back door. Herbert said the townsfolk expected Bradley to leave for the big lights of a big city.
“We knew the vehicle was going to be basketball, but we also knew that wasn’t going to be the end all. He’s always been interested in politics. He was the president of the Missouri State Student Council..and even at that time, we could hear people saying that guy’s going to be President of the United States someday,” Herbert said.
Dick Cook has known Bradley for 45 years and refers to Bradley as the hometown hero.
“I think Bill’s integrity anbd his honesty, his flawless reputation will, as we talk about them, come to the top,” Cook said.
Bradley stressed his Midwestern roots in Crystal City, a town with “one stop light,” where he was an only child raised by a banker-father and college-educated mother.
“My mother always wanted me to be a success. My father always wanted me to be a gentleman and neither one of them wanted me to be a politician,” Bradley joked.
He repeated the sentiments later Saturday as he addressed the 50-member Iowa Democrat Party Central Committee. Bradley was forced to sit in a low-slung chair at the front of the room as Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller gave a 10 minute speech extolling the virtues of his choice in the Presidential race, Vice President Gore.
“(Gore) has the single most important grasp of issues this side of Bill Clinton,” MIller said. After Miller made a short vertal salute to Bradley’s integrity, Bradley turned his head to a side corridor and rolled his eyes at one of his childhood friends.
Once the floor was his, Bradley said it was time for a President who has “big ideas” such as resolving racial strife and building an economy in which all share in the wealth.
“I think there are alot of people in the country who are doing well economically but who recognize their are things we still need to do in order to realize our promise,” Bradley said.
Newly-elected Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Rob Tully has not endorsed a candidate, and gives Bradley credit for not taking the Vice President’s “perceived lead” for granted.
“He’s doing everything he needs to do,” said newly-elected Iowa Democrat Party Chairman Rob Tully. “This is going to be a competitive race.”
Many members of the party’s leadership squad lean toward supporting Gore, but officially remain neutral, waiting for a “shoe to drop” — like combat troops in Kosovo or more campaign fundraising questions.
“I was impressed (with Bradley) but I expected to be,” said Jean Pardee of Clinton, Iowa, who describes her support of Gore as “fluid.” “I like (Bradley’s) call for challenge and to do the hard things.”
After his audition before party leadership. Bradley told reporters he’s in “good shape” for connecting with Iowans and finishing well in what he calls his “one-on-one” race against the Vice President.
“I’m actually fairly encouraged about this,” Bradley said. “I believe we’re going to do well. There’s a long way to go.”