CUPERTINO, Calif. -- Bill Clinton assailed George Bush from one end of recession-wracked California to the other yesterday, telling the National Urban League convention that the president had compiled the worst economic record since the Great Depression.
With one-fifth of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency, California is crucial to Mr. Clinton's chances of winning the presidency. And a statewide jobless rate that hit 9.5 percent last month, nearly two points higher than the national average, provided the Democrat with an inviting target for his anti-Bush rhetoric.
"There are in this state alone hundreds of thousands of defense workers now out of work, people who won the Cold War and now have been left out in the cold," he said in San Diego.
Addressing the Urban League in San Diego, Mr. Clinton said the president had largely ignored his own housing secretary, Jack Kemp, who had come up with "some pretty good ideas.
"Trouble is, they only dust him off when there's a riot or some other problem," Mr. Clinton said, referring to the rioting in Los Angeles.
It was his first major speech since the Democratic convention ended 11 days ago. And the Arkansas governor used it to condemn Mr. Bush for promoting a "mean kind of politics" and to warn that Republicans were seeking to divide Americans with issues like family values.
Mr. Clinton hit many of the same themes -- including welfare reform -- that he has used before the mainly white, suburban groups he has been addressing since his nomination.
"In 1992 we have a chance to . . . make economic empowerment and opportunity the No. 1 civil rights issue in this country," he said.
Acknowledging the interests of his largely black audience, he said that cities need "special initiatives" and noted Mr. Bush's veto of a civil rights bill. He also recalled his grandparents' opposition to segregation in Arkansas and mentioned that his 13-year-old daughter, Chelsea, is enrolled in majority-black Little Rock public schools.
Regina Smith, a league member from Baltimore, praised Mr. Clinton and his efforts to move the Democratic Party's message back toward the political center.
"I think on some things like welfare we're maybe too liberal in our thinking, and there is middle ground he wants to bring us back to," she said.
But some doubt the Southern governor's ability to understand concerns elsewhere. "I don't think he'll be in tune to the Northeast, not really," said Pat Dos Anjos of Greenwich, Conn.
As he finished two days of campaigning in the state, where he attracted large crowds and largely favorable press coverage, Mr. Clinton criticized the Bush administration for failing to make America more competitive economically and for not investing in education and training.
In Cupertino, the Silicon Valley region near San Jose, Mr. Clinton spoke at Tandem Corp., a high-tech electronics firm. About 9,000 company workers nationwide and in Canada participated via satellite in a question-and-answer session with the candidate.
The visit gave Mr. Clinton an opportunity to be photographed boosting the kind of industry he believes government should support and that helped provide the impetus for much of the state's economic prosperity during the 1980s.
Lauding the company for promoting "lifelong learning, with sabbaticals, stock options" for workers, Mr. Clinton went on to advocate tax benefits to businesses that invest in plant and equipment, and to push for the creation of a civilian research and development agency.
"We need a coherent national economic strategy," he said, "without it becoming a government bureaucracy."