Clinton throws away the script in question sessions with voters

July 27, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

ONTARIO, Calif. -- For entertainment and suspense, it's hard to beat one of Bill Clinton's unscripted meetings with voters.

Danger lurks in every question, every answer. One bad mistake, and the presidential candidate could tumble into an abyss of controversy.

It has been months since reporters asked Mr. Clinton so-called character questions, but at a forum in Seattle on Saturday night, a man demanded to know whether Mr. Clinton had been unfaithful to his wife, a question that dogged the Democratic candidate early in the primary campaign.

Mr. Clinton coolly replied with measured indignation that he had dealt with the issue before. "I have told you all I think you're entitled to know about that," he said.

The audience applauded.

Despite the risks, Mr. Clinton has made question-and-answer sessions a hallmark of his campaign because they're usually televised, permit him to speak at length and burnish his image as a politician in touch with people.

He has fielded citizens' questions at several events on his trip to the West Coast. Today he continues to woo voters in California, the biggest electoral prize and a state considered a "must win" for his campaign.

Yesterday he addressed a rally of more than 8,000 people in a park in Ontario, which is east of Los Angeles and in the heart of an area President Bush would normally be expected to prosper in. But unemployment is high in California and Mr. Clinton is attracting support on the West Coast with his message of change and economic growth.

An Orange County Register poll last week showed Mr. Clinton with a 42 percent-35 percent lead over the president in Orange County, long a Republican stronghold in Southern California. The poll found that 46 percent of Ross Perot's former supporters went to Mr. Clinton, while 25 percent went to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Clinton's Seattle meeting with voters, a televised "town hall" sponsored by a local TV station, proved to be something of a minefield for Mr. Clinton.

One antagonistic questioner demanded to know Mr. Clinton's view on a Boy Scouts of America policy barring homosexuals as scout leaders. "My question is, do you side with with the Boy Scouts of America or the homosexuals?" the man asked.

Mr. Clinton, who had just told another person he would seek to reinstate homosexuals forced out of the armed services, didn't flinch.

"The Boy Scouts are a private organization, and as such they ought to have the right to have whatever rules they want. That's different from the U.S. government."

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