Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa says he wants to talk about Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's work, not his personal life.
Before delivering a speech yesterday at a Northwest Baltimore church, Mr. Harkin said that media attention on Mr. Clinton's alleged marital infidelity is clouding the real issues of the campaign.
"It's not the personal indiscretions of Bill Clinton that should be an issue," Mr. Harkin said before speaking to 75 people gathered at Heritage United Church of Christ.
Critics should be looking at Mr. Clinton's handling of his state's environmental matters, worker safety, civil rights and other matters, Mr. Harkin said.
Mr. Clinton is seen as the front runner among Democrats campaigning in advance of New Hampshire's Feb. 18 primary and Maryland's March 3 election.
On CBS News' "60 Minutes" Sunday night, he admitted to unspecified "wrongdoing" in his marriage but denied he had a 12-year affair with a woman who sold her story to a supermarket tabloid.
"This personal stuff is getting in the way," Mr. Harkin said of the allegations.
Mr. Harkin spoke for 35 minutes in a basement hall of the church, which was visited by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson during the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.
Mr. Harkin, making his first campaign visit to Baltimore, came to the church to muster support among black voters.
The church's pastor, the Rev. Wendell Phillips, a former state delegate, said he supported Mr. Harkin because of his "rough beginnings" and his consistency. Mr. Harkin "has integrity and operates on principle," he said.
"You're dealing with a kind of sensitivity that we need in this country. The Bush man has been at it too long," Mr. Phillips said.
Mr. Harkin spoke of creating "good jobs," instead of work "flipping burgers." He said his father told him the "best social program was a job. I've always believed that."
He sprinkled his talk with favorable references to labor unions, a national health insurance system, the Head Start early-learning program for disadvantaged youth and civil rights.
He touted his authorship of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect Sunday. Among other provisions, the law seeks to assure that disabled people have access to public places and transportation.
"It's going to make us ask whether it's better to exclude people or include people," said Mr. Harkin.
Mr. Harkin, the son of a coal miner, said President Bush's legacy has been one of catering to the rich.
"I'm the real Democrat," he said, while accusing his fellow Democratic candidates of trying to be "more like Bush."
Mr. Harkin said he would put more than a million Americans back to work rebuilding roads and schools. He criticized Mr. Bush's theory of trickle-down economics.
"His economic program is that the best way to feed the birds is to put a lot of oats in the horse," he said. "I intend to make George Bush apologize for what he's done."