Concord, NH (CNSNews.com) - The bad blood between Vice President Al Gore and his sole rival, former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, has grown more toxic, with Gore flatly denying Bradley's assertion that he played the race card during his 1988 White House bid by injecting Willie Horton into the campaign.
Horton is a convicted killer, who raped a woman in Maryland, while on a furlough program created under the administration of then Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. At the time, Dukakis and Gore were two of several candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, which Dukakis eventually won.
Gore first mentioned Horton during a televised debate, prior to the New York Primary, in which he accused Dukakis of being soft on crime and criticized a Massachusetts policy which permitted inmates, included those convicted of first degree murder, to have weekend furloughs. Gore told the nation, two slaying had been carried out by Massachusetts inmates on furlough and then asked Dukakis if he would support a similar program for federal prisoners.
During the general election campaign, then Vice President George Bush ran an ad, which contained an image of Horton and again portrayed Dukakis as soft on crime. The spot drew outrage from civil rights leaders, who insisted it would only aggravate racial tensions.
During a local appearance, Bradley insisted the vice president should have used a different example to make his point that Dukakis was soft on crime. "Gore introduced him (Horton) into the lexicon. It bothers me a great deal...I wouldn't have used Willie Horton."
"The racial dimension to it...there were probably a lot of other people who fit into the category," he added.
Bradley's raising of the Horton issue, is part of a broader campaign to illustrate Gore's willingness to only go "halfway" in proposing solutions to the nation's social problems, including health care and other social issues like race.
Meanwhile Dukakis, long absent from the national political stage, has come out on Gore's side. In a statement released from his office at UCLA, where he teaches, Dukakis said, "To suggest that Al Gore was responsible for this is not only wrong, but quite unfair...the guy who was responsible for this was George Bush and we all know what he did."
"I like Bill Bradley. But I just hope that as we head for Iowa and new Hampshire, we will keep this campaign where it ought to be, on the important issues," he added.
But Susan Estrich, who ran the '88 Dukakis campaign, had a different view. "I would never accuse Gore of being a racist. But his reference to furloughs was certainly the first shot of the Willie Horton issue."