Bill Bradley’s Secret Admirer

Three long months ago, back when Bill Bradley looked like a serious threat to Al Gore, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg reported that Bradley was about to pick up an endorsement from Michael Jordan. Weisberg was right; about a month later, Jordan filmed a TV ad endorsing Bradley for president. This was in December, when Bradley still looked like a serious threat to Gore. What did the Bradley campaign do next? Did it phone every political reporter in America? Did it blanket the Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves with the Jordan ad? No. It kept the endorsement secret! It remained closely held until Feb. 10, the day before the Jordan commercial was set to air for the first time. USA Today broke the story, but the Bradley campaign initially had “no comment”! Later in the day, it issued a press release that said it was true.

Chatterbox is sure there’s a logical explanation for why an insurgent presidential candidate would wait till he got marginalized in New Hampshire before letting people know that he’s been blessed with an endorsement from one of the most famous and admired people on the planet. He just can’t seem to find out what it is.

Is it because the Bradley campaign figured Jordan’s endorsement would provide a bigger boost in the South, where Jordan grew up?

“There are very few people in the country who don’t know Michael Jordan,” Bradley spokesperson Kristen Ludecke countered when Chatterbox phoned to float that hypothesis.

Er, yes, exactly. Then why didn’t you air it in Iowa and New Hampshire?

Because, Ludecke said, “this is really when people across the country start paying attention to the presidential race.”

That didn’t sound terribly convincing. Chatterbox pressed further: Was it because Jordan was jittery, and requested that Bradley sit on the ad for a while? After all, Jordan had never made a political endorsement before. (He famously declined to endorse Harvey Gantt’s Senate candidacy against Jesse Helms because “Republicans buy shoes too.”)

No, Ludecke said, the delay wasn’t Jordan’s doing. If Jordan wanted it kept secret, she said, why would he go on Larry King Live in June and say he really liked Bill Bradley?

Good question! Sure enough, it turns out that in a June appearance on the CNN program, Jordan said: “I love Bill Bradley and I’m learning more about his campaign as it goes further. But I do see myself supporting him. And I have had some conversations with Bill about it, and I’ve always respected him as a leader.”

Perhaps Bradley just wants to keep the public guessing. What other endorsements have fallen behind his toaster? Ronald Reagan? The pope?

(To watch the Jordan spot, click here.)