Snarling Clinton-Brown fray hits nadir in N.Y. primary Candidates face new queries on past actions.

April 06, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK -- This state's Democratic primary campaign slid toward its final 24 hours with both candidates forced once more to defend themselves against charges of dishonesty and hypocrisy while seeming to tire of the battle's snarling tone.

At appearances and then at a televised debate, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton faced renewed questioning about his draft status in the late 1960s after reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press disclosed that he had received an induction notice before entering an ROTC program in 1969.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, meanwhile, faced queries about a Los Angeles Times study that showed a large percentage of people appointed to judgeships in the last years of his tenure had contributed money to his presidential and senatorial campaigns.

The New York campaign has set new lows in bitter campaigning and voter disenchantment even by the standards of a political season dominated by negativism.

"Nobody's happy. Everyone's miserable," says a senior Clinton campaign aide, adding that voter turnout could be as low as 800,000 -- only half the turnout in 1988.

The expected low turnout -- plus the possibility that former candidate Paul E. Tsongas could win a sizable vote -- has left the race here volatile and unpredictable. Both campaigns and outside analysts say that Mr. Clinton appears to hold a lead, but all agree that his margin is shaky.

With the likely low turnout in mind, both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Brown arranged their schedules to reach out to key constituencies. Both spent yesterday courting black voters by visiting churches. Then, after returning from the abortion-rights march, both set out to court white ethnic Catholics.

But even as Mr. Clinton and Mr. Brown tried to focus their attention on those wavering voters, they faced renewed barrages of questions over their past conduct.

In Mr. Clinton's case, the questions once again centered on the Vietnam-era draft. Responding to questions from reporters, Mr. Clinton's campaign released a statement conceding that he had received an induction notice from his draft board in the spring of 1969 -- several months before he arranged to enter an Arkansas ROTC program that provided him with a draft deferment. Mr. Clinton had never mentioned such a notice.

Mr. Clinton insisted that he had not meant to mislead voters about how he had escaped military service. "All I can tell you is, this was not any kind of deliberate attempt to not disclose something on my part," he told reporters.

Mr. Brown, campaigning in Buffalo, N.Y., late yesterday, called Mr. Clinton's response on the draft "incredible."

Earlier, in response to questions, Mr. Brown insisted that he had never traded campaign contributions for judgeships. The Times reported yesterday that roughly one-fifth of the judges Mr. Brown appointed in his final two years as governor had contributed money to his campaign, in some cases within days of their nomination. Although some of the appointees denied any connection between the contributions and the nominations, others said they had sent money to improve their chances.

Meanwhile, in presidential votes yesterday, Mr. Clinton scored overwhelmingly in Puerto Rico's Democratic primary, putting him the halfway mark in his quest for the presidential nomination.

President Bush rolled through the Republican side of the island primaries yesterday, helped by a pro-statehood drive that resulted in a record GOP turnout. Mr. Bush got 99.1 percent of the vote.

There was good news for Mr. Clinton in Wisconsin. He has gained in the polls, leading Mr. Brown, 46 percent to 41 percent among voters who say they have made up their minds, in a poll published yesterday in The Milwaukee Journal. "It is a very volatile situation here," says Jeff Neubauer, the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman. "Neither one of these guys has a majority of voters deeply committed to them."

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