Bradley After The Buzzer

After announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race last week, Bill Bradley repaired to his New Jersey headquarters to begin the long process of closing down. He called old friends and strolled the halls, thanking secretaries he'd never had the chance to meet. A few longtime aides commiserated over Chinese food, while others shot baskets on a makeshift court outside. As Secret Service agents in the hallway served out their final shift, a relaxed Bradley sat in his sparse office with NEWSWEEK's Matt Bai and reflected on what might have been. Excerpts:

BAI: What could you have done better?

BRADLEY: I think maybe I could have said what I believed better. Maybe getting across more clearly the connection between values and issues... If I had it to do all over again, I probably would have talked about atrial fibrillation in the second week of my campaign.

You talked a lot about Vice President Gore in this campaign. Have your personal feelings toward him been tarnished?

I think he's a fierce competitor. I think he's intelligent. He's disciplined, and he ran a strong campaign... I've said where I think the problems were. I can't get into that now.

How much did John McCain's campaign hurt you?

Well, I think in the five weeks from New Hampshire up until March 7, there were about 350 media stories about the Republicans and 25 about the Democrats... I thought I would save my policy statements on the big things--like the economy, education, the environment and foreign policy--until after New Hampshire, when the public would be paying attention. The only problem is that the public wasn't paying attention after we lost New Hampshire, narrowly.

At what point did you know that you were going to have to quit?

I never believed it, OK? Because I'm a competitor, and in a competition, if you're behind by 20 points in the last quarter, you're hoping you're going to pull it out. I've been in enough situations where that was true. So I refused to believe anything until the end... Maybe there was a part of me that was pushing, pushing, pushing--believing, believing, believing. And [there was] another part of me that was wondering if this was ever going to go over the top. But that was not the part that I listened to.

What comes next for you? You must have a lot of possibilities.

I haven't got the faintest idea. I know that I'm going to take my last Secret Service ride in about an hour. I'm going to go down to our apartment. I'm going to take off my suit and put on some other clothes. I'm going to drive my 1984 Oldsmobile back over here and continue to make calls to friends around the country. Then I'll probably hang around here for a week to clear the desk that I haven't been able to get to for three and a half months, and then Ernestine and I will go away on a vacation. Then I'll come back and start thinking about the rest of my life.