LITTLE ROCK, ARK — LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Attempting to insulate himself against expected attacks at the Republican National Convention, Bill Clinton urged voters yesterday to reject a GOP "flag of fear."
"They're going to tell you every reason in the wide world why you ought to be afraid of Bill Clinton and Al Gore," the Democratic nominee predicted.
Anticipating the verbal assault on him at next week's Republican National Convention, Mr. Clinton said Republicans would say "how bad we are. We're against family values, we're against work, we're going to tax and spend to death."
His comments, at a campaign rally outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, are part of a multi-pronged effort by his campaign to minimize political damage from the escalating Republican charges. For example, top Clinton campaign aides will be in Houston, the Republican convention city, next week to respond to the rhetorical attacks on Mr. Clinton.
Beyond preparing voters for the GOP onslaught, the Arkansas governor is attempting to remain in control of the campaign agenda, while undercutting President Bush's efforts to wipe out the Democrat's big lead in the polls.
Yesterday morning, Mr. Clinton made use of one of his favorite attention-getting devices, a televised question-and-answer session with voters, by appearing for two hours with his running mate, Mr. Gore, on "CBS This Morning."
Mr. Clinton, who did not serve in the military and whose draft record has been an issue, was asked what experience he had that gave him the ability to put American men and women in harm's way. He responded by citing his use of the National Guard in Arkansas to quell a riot by Cuban refugees housed in the state in 1980, as well as his decision to send guard units to train in Central America.
As commander in chief, "I'll make the best judgment I can based on expert advice from military leaders and other leaders and based on what seems to be the right thing to do for the U.S. at the time," he said.
Mr. Gore, who served in Vietnam as an Army journalist, came to Mr. Clinton's aid, saying: "I really think that the overwhelming majority ofAmericans are really tired, 22 years later, of people trying to use the Vietnam War to divide this country."
The Tennessee senator also pointed out that Ronald Reagan was an ex-governor who came to the presidency with no real experience in national security matters. "If you want to go back through the history of this century and before, there is a long list of governors who have been among the finest commanders-in-chief of this nation," he said.
Republican planners are working to showcase Mr. Bush's foreign policy experience and Desert Storm leadership during next week's convention at the Astrodome.
Though it is traditional for each party to lie low during the other's convention, Mr. Clinton plans a limited schedule of activities, details of which haven't been announced.
"We won't be rude," said campaign manager David Wilhelm, suggesting Mr. Clinton won't attempt to upstage Mr. Bush. "But we're not going to be out of the mix, either. We'reliterally working on that right now, trying to determine what the program will be for that week."
Clinton aides have considered staging an endorsement of him by prominent business executives, in anticipation of Republican claims that he will hurt the economy.
Once the convention ends, Mr. Clinton will attempt to regain the spotlight with his third bus trip, from Detroit to western New York.
But for all their efforts, Clinton aides predict the convention will contribute to an inevitable tightening of the race.
"We know ultimately" Mr. Bush's "campaign, at the minimum, is going to send messages to the Republican faithful that will narrow the current margin in the polls," Mr. Wilhelm said.
Acknowledging the Clinton campaign has had "a pretty good run the last three or four weeks," senior adviser James Carville observed: "The momentum gods are a fickle lot out there."