Clinton-Gore bus tour draws enthusiastic crowds

July 20, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

UTICA, Ohio -- Since they began their eight-state bus tour Friday, Bill Clinton and Albert Gore Jr. have tossed a football, worn blue jeans, played miniature golf, hugged their wives and spoken twice in front of likenesses of John F. Kennedy.

They're casting themselves as youthful activists, a new generation of political leadership that is heir to Mr. Kennedy and is in touch with everyday Americans.

Audiences have loved it, so far.

The candidates were enthusiastically welcomed yesterday by an overflow crowd at a community center in Weirton, W.Va. And later, hundreds of people lined the street outside the Stone Presbyterian Church in Wheeling where Mr. Clinton changed from jeans into a suit and appeared on an interfaith religious television cable network program.

Their itinerary also included a visit to an employee-owned steel mill in Weirton, W.Va., and a potluck dinner with farmers in Utica, Ohio, the half-way point of the candidates' 1,000-mile journey to St. Louis.

Their trip going well, Mr. Clinton and his aides brushed off a Republican attack on his draft record during the Vietnam War, saying he had already dealt with the issue during the primary campaign.

"I think his [draft] record is clear and I think they're trying to bring up whatever personal attacks they can to try to divert people from the real issues of this campaign," said campaign spokeswoman De Dee Myers.

Sen. Jake Garn, a Utah Republican, criticized Mr. Clinton's draft record Saturday, saying, "We don't need those kinds of politicians in either political party, so let's vote for those candidates who have the courage of their convictions."

Mr. Clinton received a draft exemption by agreeing to participate in the Army ROTC program at the University of Arkansas. But he never joined the program, which has provoked criticism that he practiced deception to avoid being drafted.

In his defense, Mr. Clinton says he voluntarily surrendered his exemption and exposed himself to the draft in the fall of 1969.

In December 1969, the government instituted a draft lottery and he received a high number, which kept him from being called.

Taking up another line of attack, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas yesterday labeled the Democratic ticket as being exceptionally liberal.

"He'll sign anything," Mr. Dole said of Mr. Clinton. "The liberal Democratic members of Congress were hidden during the convention. . . . He didn't even want any of the liberal Democrats, but I'll bet he's not against anything they're going to do the next few weeks."

Mr. Dole, appearing on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," also said Mr. Gore is "right up there at the top" among liberals in Congress.

In Weirton, Mr. Clinton counterattacked:

"Al Gore and I will tell you to work for the future. . . . They're going to say we're too liberal and too young and too this and too that. I'll tell you what. We're too much for the American people for their tastes."

Appearing on Vision Interfaith Satellite Network's cable program, he was asked to put some worldly issues -- abortion and capital punishment -- in the context of his Southern Baptist religious faith.

"I don't think the Bible . . . prohibits capital punishment," said Mr. Clinton, who has authorized executions as governor of Arkansas.

Asked about abortion by a Catholic priest, he said, "I still believe that every religious leader in the country and every citizen of this country should be free to decide what he or she believes God's will is on this subject. . . . My job and your job as priest are two different jobs."

Mr. Clinton supports a woman's right to have an abortion and has been greeted at several campaign stops in Pennsylvania and West Virginia by anti-abortion protesters.

At the Weirton Steel Corp., Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore donned blue hard hats and company jackets while touring the plant, which has flourished since employees bought it in 1984 and invested tens of millions of dollars for modernization.

His visit was intended to illustrate the campaign's economic investment proposals and shore up voter support in a state Democrats expect to win in the fall, Ms. Myers said.

At the Millsop Community Center in Weirton, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore sat near a bust of President Kennedy while they spoke.

Mr. Kennedy campaigned in Weirton in 1960 and said, "It's time for change," which is the Clinton-Gore campaign theme.

In Utica, 35 miles northeast of Columbus, hundreds of people lined the town's streets to wave at the Democratic caravan as it arrived in early evening.

The candidates sat on bales of hay with their wives and answered questions from about 30 farmers invited to the farm of Gene Branstool, Ohio Democratic chairman. Also attending were Ohio's Democratic senators, Howard M. Metzenbaum and John H. Glenn.

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