Gore, looking ahead, lashes out at Bush's fund-raising tactics

By Susan Milligan, Globe Staff, 3/6/2000

RANSTON, R.I. - Confident of winning the Democratic nomination, Vice President Al Gore lashed out yesterday at his potential Republican opponent, Texas Governor George W. Bush, for refusing to denounce ''soft money'' and suggesting Bush could win his party's nomination unfairly because of it.

''We knew Governor Bush was in the hip pocket of the special interests,'' Gore told a crowd at a senior citizens center here. ''Now we know what a deep pocket that is. ... $2.5 million all of a sudden flooding into these contests.''

Soft money is unlimited, loosely regulated cash raised for voter education or party-building activities and spent by the party. It is not supposed to be spent in coordination with a candidate or campaign. Bush is the only major candidate of either party who has not called for a ban on soft money.

If Bush captures his party's nomination, ''this will raise serious questions about whether he did so fair and square,'' Gore said. The vice president seemed to be referring to money spent on ads by a Bush supporter.

Gore himself has been the target of criticism on campaign finance. Republicans are already talking about running an ad against Gore for his 1996 fund-raising activities, including money raised at a California Buddhist temple, an event he later said he did not know was a fund-raiser.

''I made a mistake,'' Gore said in a brief chat with reporters.

Gore's comments reflect the state of the Democratic race, which has Gore the overwhelming favorite against former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley in tomorrow's Democratic contests in 16 states.

Both Gore and Bradley were speaking in the past tense yesterday about the campaign, which has taken on a more gentlemanly tone in the last week.

''I think he distorted the record,'' Bradley said on NBC's ''Meet the Press,'' when asked directly whether Gore had run an honorable campaign.

''I had hoped that we could get to an election where people could be choosing between two politicians they esteem as opposed to one they can barely tolerate,'' Bradley added, though he did say he thought the negativity of the campaign had ''calmed down'' in the last two weeks.

Gore acknowlegded that he had backed off on Bradley, but he said it was only because Bradley himself has eased up.

''I thought that his tone changed in the last several days with far less of the attacks that have become commonplace, and I wanted to reciprocate,'' Gore told reporters.

Greeted by excited cheers and accordion players performing polka music, Gore promised senior citizens here that he would protect Social Security.

Bradley joined a service at True Bethel Baptist Church in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo. He sat quietly throughout much of the service, but joined the clapping at the pastor's urging.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.