Vice President Al Gore eased up on rival Bill Bradley on Friday. Gone was the fiery rhetoric about "shredding the social safety net," replaced by a concession that Bradley's health plan is based on a "respectable theory not to be dismissed out of hand."
"Although I do dismiss it," Gore added, apparently unable to pull every punch as his aides had advised on a day of fresh questions about Bradley's heart condition.
Both Bradley and Gore campaigned at full speed all around the snow-crusted state. "There are three days left and we have a lot of work to do. We have some unfinished business," Bradley told about 100 cheering backers in Burlington.
Gore, on a Perry farm, looked ahead to another daybreak-to-midnight schedule and said he felt "like a guy working with every ounce of breath I have to get one more vote than the other guy."
He tried to raise the stakes of Monday's Iowa caucus for Bradley, saying the former New Jersey senator has "bet everything on this and New Hampshire."
Earlier, reporters asked Gore during a Des Moines hospital tour whether he was worried about Bradley after Thursday's disclosure that his rival had had four recent episodes of an irregular heartbeat.
"My understanding is that it's nothing serious," Gore said as he knelt with Mercy Medical Center asthma patient Shelby Claflin, 2, and her twin stuffed bunnies. To WHO-TV, Gore said Bradley "is in great health. It shouldn't be an issue."
Peppered with reporters' questions about his heart, Bradley said, "No I'm not worried about it. This is a common condition; millions of Americans have it."
He speculated the problem might be due to elevated caffeine consumption after he switched soft drinks to cream soda. "I have curtailed all of my cream soda," said Bradley.
Asked if he should have mentioned the heartbeat episodes earlier, he said no.
"It is not a factor in the campaign or in conduct in office," he said. "If I'm sick at my stomach, do I have to tell you I'm sick at my stomach?"
Bradley said he was taking energy from the crowds.
"This room has a certain feel about it," Bradley said. "This campaign is based on the radical premise that you can go out and tell people what you believe and you can win. If you lead, you have to lay out something specific."
Bush talks candidly of his drinking
COLFAX, Iowa _ George W. Bush acknowledged his hard-drinking past to a group of recovering drug addicts Friday, telling them, "I'm on a walk just like you."
Taking a break from traditional campaigning, the front-running Republican presidential candidate spoke about his experience with alcohol in highly personal terms and displayed a side of himself voters have rarely seen.
"I'm on a walk. And it's a never-ending walk as far as I'm concerned," he told a hushed audience of recovering drug addicts and their families. "I understand. I do. I used to drink too much and I quit drinking. . . . I want you to know that your life's walk is shared by a lot of other people, even some who wear suits."
Although Bush has often told of how he quit drinking after celebrating his 40th birthday, he usually tells the story in matter-of-fact terms. He says he never considered himself an alcoholic and gave up drinking primarily because it sapped his energy at night.
But after listening to the poignant personal stories of recovering addicts, Bush delivered an earnest account of his own experience.
Coming up. . .
Among the Republicans, Steve Forbes will be barnstorming across Iowa. George W. Bush will also be in Iowa all weekend. Gary Bauer is also in Iowa all weekend, and today will focus on abortion by speaking to various anti-abortion groups throughout the state and holding a news conference outside an abortion clinic in Davenport. Alan Keyes also spends the weekend in Iowa, attending an anti-abortion rally in Dubuque and rallies in Des Moines and Iowa City. Orrin Hatch makes a foreign policy speech in Des Moines today. John McCain, who is not campaigning in Iowa, will be in South Carolina meeting with supporters and holding rallies in Orangeburg, Columbia and Hilton Head, before heading to New Hampshire for a series of town halls on Sunday.
Democrats Bill Bradley and Al Gore will both be in Iowa all weekend.
Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan addresses the Florida Reform Party convention in Tampa today. He will travel to Savannah, Ga., Sunday for an anti-abortion march.