On Clinton's night, talk was of Perot DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION



NEW YORK -- One of the oldest axioms in politics instructs that a candidate should never "step on his own story." That was one of the reasons the Bill Clinton campaign decided to select its vice-presidential nominee in advance of the convention -- to make certain the decision did not take play away from the desired focus on Mr. Clinton, who needed some image repair here this week.

All was going famously until yesterday, when Ross Perot dropped his bombshell in Dallas.

The fallout of his decision not to run drifted quickly over Madison Square Garden and environs, where television coverage and corridor talk turned on a dime away from Mr. Clinton's big night and anticipated acceptance speech to what Mr. Perot's decision meant for Mr. Clinton's chances, and for the Democratic Party.

Prior to the Perot announcement, Mr. Clinton's campaign chairman, Mickey Kantor, and Democratic National Chairman Ronald H. Brown were busy telling reporters that it made no difference to them whether Mr. Perot was in or out.

They continued to say the same when the news came from Dallas, but there was plenty of speculation throughout the convention about what the impact really would be.

* The 17-point lead Mr. Clinton holds over President Bush in a Washington Post-ABC News poll has triggered comparisons between the Clinton and Michael S. Dukakis situations coming out of their conventions, and the Clinton spin doctors are quick to say why the fate that Mr. Dukakis met after riding so high won't befall their man.

For one thing, they say, Mr. Clinton is not going to turn the other cheek to Republican assaults the way Mr. Dukakis did four years ago.

For another, they insist, Mr. Clinton will be running against a candidate who has broken promises and has demonstrated he can't dig the country out of its economic hole.

And third, they say, voters in 1988 wanted to continue what had come before -- the Reagan era -- but don't want four more years of Mr. Bush's status quo.

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