Clinton takes on rival Brown, remnants of Tsongas in Conn.

March 24, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Bill Clinton, campaigning hard to kill off the one remaining challenge to his nomination from Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., also must face the political ghost of Paul E. Tsongas in today's Democratic presidential primary in Connecticut.

In addition to Mr. Brown's active stumping, Mr. Clinton must cope with a volunteer effort to convince voters to support Mr. Tsongas, who remains on the ballot in spite of having "suspended" his campaign last Thursday in the wake of decisive losses in the Illinois and Michigan primaries.

While volunteers labeling themselves "Tcitizen Tsoldiers for Tsongas" staffed phone banks and distributed leaflets at shopping malls around the state yesterday and while Mr. Brown undertook a final campaign swing, Mr. Clinton made a bus tour and ran negative television advertising against his one active rival, indicating he was taking Mr. Brown seriously.

The ad called Mr. Brown's proposal for a 13 percent flat tax a "flat-out fraud" and reiterated charges that Mr. Clinton had made earlier, in debates in Chicago and Buffalo, N.Y., that Mr. Brown as Democratic Party chairman in California had aggressively opposed the kind of limits on campaign contributions he has made a centerpiece of his current "insurgent" presidential campaign.

Mr. Brown, for one of the few times this year, also was running television advertising other than the self-styled lengthy "infommercial" that parades Hollywood celebrities in a plea for funds through his now-famous 800 telephone number -- a device Tsongas volunteers have also now adopted.

"The national media and Washington insiders are saying the campaign is over, but Tuesday you can send the message that we've just be

gun to fight for the soul of our party and the country we love," says a Brown ad, trying to dispel the notion that Mr. Clinton has the nomination locked up.

Another Brown ad talks of the former California governor's work in India with Mother Teresa in a pitch for the state's liberal Democratic vote. He also has been endorsed by several labor leaders, including Phil Wheeler, state president of the United Auto Workers.

The Connecticut primary, only days ago viewed as a measure of Mr. Tsongas' comeback ability after the defeats in Illinois and Michigan, shapes up instead as a possible vehicle of resistance to Mr. Clinton's steamroller to the party's presidential nomination.

Mr. Tsongas was an early favorite in Connecticut, largely on NTC grounds that he came from neighboring Massachusetts, but there were signs before he dropped out of the race that the Clinton campaign believed they could beat him there and score a psychological coup. They won endorsements from several prominent Democrats and put a substantial organization in place, assuming that Mr. Tsongas would remain in the contest at least through Connecticut and the April 7 primary in New York.

Now today's vote will be examined for indications of Mr. Clinton's strength after his big Illinois and Michigan victories, but just as significantly for the extent of continued opposition to or concern about his nomination within the party, as measured by the combined votes here for Mr. Brown and for the Tsongas effort.

In the Democratic primary, 53 pledged delegates will be at stake today.

On the Republican side, President Bush is expected to win all 35 delegates against television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who is on the ballot but has not campaigned extensively in Connecticut.

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