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Bradley Woos Seattle; Gore Targets GOP

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The widening chasm in the Democratic presidential race appeared to strike a chord in both candidates Monday as Bill Bradley sounded resigned about his prospects in Washington while Vice President Al Gore looked ahead toward the fall campaign.

As Bradley spent a busy final day campaigning before Washington’s primary today, he conceded that after spending nearly a week trying to build his profile here, the state’s nonbinding vote will not be “determinative” about the crucial round of March 7 primaries in California, New York and several other states.

In Denver, Gore was already acting like the party’s standard-bearer, contrasting his agenda with those of Republican contenders John McCain and George W. Bush. Gore said the fall election is “a fork in the road,” adding that the stakes “are as high--maybe higher than they’ve ever been” because of the opportunity the next president may have to name three or four Supreme Court justices.

As Bradley spent the day in drizzling rain in Seattle, chatting with ferry commuters and attending a rally with college students, he still insisted that a win in Washington “would send a message.” But he added, “I didn’t come here expecting that we would be able to do that. I saw the numbers before I got here. I knew we were against entrenched power. I knew it would be difficult, and it has been. In the meantime, I think we’ve made some progress.”

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Bradley’s realism was a shift from the statements made by his staff last week when they promised to make the state’s contest a key battleground to pick up momentum before the pivotal primaries next week.

Later, Bradley’s aides said the trip was worth it because five days of campaigning here drew more attention to the Democratic race and demonstrated differences not only with Gore but also with McCain, who has made a strong bid to woo independent voters away from Bradley.

The campaign has been able to “show a surge, show a lot of attention, change the channel,” said spokesman Eric Hauser.

But most Democratic Party televisions seemed tuned to the all-Gore, all-the-time channel. As Gore moved from Pueblo, Colo., to Phoenix and then on to Los Angeles late Monday night, he was concentrating his rhetoric on the Republicans--a luxury he can afford given his double-digit leads over Bradley in almost every March 7 primary state.

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Gore raised the specter of Republican control of the next high court nominees to pummel both Bush and McCain, exhorting a cheering audience of hundreds at the Denver Arts Complex that, “if you believe in civil rights and civil liberties, a woman’s right to choose, freedom of religion, if you believe in values that have bound us together as Americans . . . remember: The presidency is at stake and the Supreme Court is at stake.”

In another development involving Gore, Aetna U.S. Healthcare has decided to continue skilled nursing care for a baby whose case caught the vice president’s attention, the company’s chief medical officer said Monday.

During a visit to Washington state on Sunday, Gore--who made the family of 5-month-old Ian Malone a symbol of his call for stronger appeal rights for those refused coverage by HMOs--met privately with Ian’s parents, Christine and Dylan Malone, and promised to call Aetna on their behalf.

The baby has brain damage caused by a difficult birth, his parents say. He suffers seizures, can’t swallow and is prone to choking. The 12-hour-a-day in-home nursing care costs about $300 a day, the Malones said.

An Aetna reviewer had recommended in January that the in-home care be terminated next month.

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Gold reported from Seattle and Chen from Denver. Times staff writer Stephen Braun contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.


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