WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton courted congressional Democrats yesterday and wound up on a political blind date, one that was a little awkward but still worth the effort.
The Arkansas governor, who has criticized Washington and the perks and privileges of Congress in his campaign, wooed and won the support of an additional 31 lawmakers, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for a total of 123 of the 275 congressional "superdelegates" who will attend the July convention.
But the Democratic outsider came "inside" to Capitol Hill not really knowing what to expect wile insisting he was still the "agent for change."
"What I pledged to the Congress today was that I would work with the Congress to change this country," he said while surrounded by about two dozen lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt. "And I would work with and campaign with any member of Congress committed to change. . . . I think the American people are sick and tired of gridlock in Washington."
The Democratic front-runner said there were some areas of disagreement during his meetings with lawmakers. "Most people in Congress don't like the line item veto nearly as much," he said with a chuckle of his support for the proposal.
He also urged the Democrats to craft a stronger campaign finance bill if, as expected, President Bush vetoes the current measure.
And in response to a reporter's question Mr. Clinton said he would advise the House -- in the "spirit of openness" -- to turn over all House bank records to a special prosecutor appointed by the Bush administration, although some Democrats view the subpoena as politically motivated.
Mr. Clinton saved his anti-Washington criticism yesterday for theother end of Pennsylvania Avenue, highlighting Mr. Bush's proposal to delay enactment of new clean air regulations and the president's participation this week in a controversial campaign dinner that raised millions of dollars for the GOP's fall campaign.
The Arkansas governor also tried to reverse the president's election-year attacks on Congress, saying the president denies the severity of the problems facing the country and then "simply blames them on other people."
"We're not going to turn this country around until we have a president and a Congress jointly committed to change," he said.
Still, less than half the superdelegates have endorsed Mr. Clinton, despite his solid win Tuesday in Pennsylvania and near-unanimous agreement that he will be the nominee.
Some members say privately they are still concerned by the character questions that have plagued Mr. Clinton. Others wonder whether he can shake these concerns and capture the White House.
"Not all these people know me," said Mr. Clinton of the doubters. "One of the reasons I came today was so they could get a better feel for what kind of a person I am, what kind of governor I've been. . . ."
Some of the uncommitted simply didn't want to talk about it.
"I just haven't thought about it," said Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, a powerful Illinois Democrat, smiling and waving aside a reporter. And California's George Miller indicated much the same.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, a liberal New Yorker, yesterday told a meeting of longshoremen that he wants to hear more from Mr. Clinton about urban problems.
Another uncommitted Democrat, Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, admitted that his choices for president were the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. "Their absence in the race caused me to take a position of neutrality. I was more inspired by those other candidates," he said, although he expects Mr. Clinton will be the nominee and will support him.
Maryland Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski also have yet to endorse Mr. Clinton.