WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley responded to criticism about his years after leaving the Senate by calling it a "period of rejuvenation."

"I'll tell you, quite frankly, had I not left the Senate and gotten out of Washington and been in the real world, and had an experience that I had, I don't think that I'd be running for president today," Bradley said in an interview broadcast Saturday on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields.""It was a period of rejuvenation and a period that was very refreshing to me, and it gave me a chance to think about where the country was and where I'd like to take the country," said Bradley, who represented New Jersey for 18 years before leaving the Senate in 1997.

Vice President Al Gore's campaign has criticized Bradley for accepting millions of dollars in speaking fees, mostly from special interest groups, after he left Washington.

Just last week, Bradley's income tax returns and financial disclosure statement showed he earned $2.7 million for speeches given in 1997 and 1998 -- much of it from those groups.

An Associated Press computer analysis of candidate contributions last month found that Bradley's biggest contributors were employees of Wall Street investment houses.

Bradley said that after the Senate, he worked as a professor at several schools, wrote a book and took leading roles in several organizations.

"All those brought income to me and to my family. I mean, that's what you do in the private sector," Bradley said on CNN. "I had a life before I got into politics and I had a life since I left the Senate."

Bradley's comments offer a rare moment where the former senator has replied to criticism from Gore.

At a recent New Hampshire debate, Bradley refused to comment when Gore attacked his health-care proposal.

He said in the television interview that Americans are fed up with "negative politics."

"It's a question in that context of whether you were going to try to present a positive vision of where you'd like the country to head or whether you're going to get into the rat-a-tat-tat of response and counter-response," Bradley said.