Clinton, Gore ask voters in North Carolina to break with state's GOP trend

October 27, 1992|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,Staff Writer

DURHAM, N.C. -- Democratic candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore took their celebrated campaigning-by-bus on an eighth and final swing yesterday, asking North Carolina voters to throw out of the White House next Tuesday the man they resoundingly supported four years ago.

The Democratic ticket argued that President Bush, who won 58 percent of the state's vote in 1988, had his chance to bring prosperity through "trickle-down economics" but failed and that he should now be forced to step aside for a new generation of leadership.

"We need for you to send a signal that the old Republican Party cannot take North Carolina for granted anymore," Mr. Clinton told a cheering crowd before the county courthouse in Hillsborough.

While the Democrats aimed their fire at Mr. Bush, much talk within the entourage yesterday was of independent candidate Ross Perot's latest allegation that the Bush campaign engaged in dirty tricks against his family to undercut his campaign. Clinton aides declined to speculate on the record how the charge -- flatly denied by White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater -- was likely to affect the campaign.

However, it was noted that ever since Mr. Perot entered the 1992 presidential picture, his presence as a proponent of change has had more impact on Mr. Clinton's support than on that of Mr. Bush, whose backing has remained relatively constant throughout.

That is, when the Texas billionaire first got into the race he appeared to draw mostly from Mr. Clinton, and when he pulled out in July the bulk of his support went to the Arkansas governor. Mr. Perot's re-entry again pulled support mostly from Mr. Clinton, as the governor himself said yesterday. So it can be assumed, some aides said privately, that if Mr. Perot's latest bizarre allegations produce defections from him, the defectors are most likely to go back to Mr. Clinton who, like Mr. Perot, is a candidate preaching change.

Mr. Clinton adopted the posture of a bemused bystander in the latest Bush-Perot dustup. In an early morning "town hall meeting" with voters at the Winston-Salem YWCA shown nationally on the CBS "This Morning" television show, he said he didn't know anything about the controversy except that his two opponents had been accused of investigating the other's children. What he intends to do and they should too, he said, is to spend the remaining eight days of the campaign "investigating the problems of America's children."

The Democratic nominee noted that Mr. Bush -- before Mr. Perot's latest charges -- had been attacking him but then stopped. He speculated that the president hoped "that the anti-Bush vote will be divided [between Mr. Clinton and Mr. Perot] and he can sneak up through the middle." The renewed fighting between the two Texans, he suggested, was likely to make that strategy more difficult.

One Clinton strategist said the Arkansas governor recognized as soon as he heard about the latest Perot charges that his own best strategy was to stand aside.

The daylong trip across the Carolina Piedmont region was yet another piece of evidence of the Clinton-Gore optimism as the Democratic campaign struck at a state that, based on past voting patterns, should have been in Mr. Bush's pocket long ago. North Carolina has voted Republican in five of the last seven presidential elections; the last time a Democrat carried it was in 1976, when fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter won.

Polls in the state have fluctuated wildly, giving Mr. Clinton leads of as much as 12 percentage points, but a Clinton aide said privately that his candidate now has a lead of only a few points.

Former Democratic Gov. James Hunt, seeking election to a third term after an eight-year absence, said that the presidential contest in the state is extremely close but that the Democrats are running one of their most coordinated and united campaigns in his memory. Yesterday's bus tour, he said, marked the 21st time this year a presidential or vice-presidential candidate had campaigned in the state. Mr. Bush whistlestopped through North Carolina last week.

Once again, as in the seven previous bus tours in all sections of the country, the Democratic candidates and their wives were greeted by enthusiastic crowds en route and at several not-quite-impromptu stops. The grass-roots campaigning that has become a trademark for them had settled into a formula by this last trip, but it still was an effective crowd-gatherer to the end.

At Elon College, Mr. Clinton bragged that the town-meeting format used in the second presidential debate was adapted from his campaign and that it proved again to be advantageous to him at the question-and-answer session with the Winston-Salem voters.

A woman who said she wanted a candidate who knew "what it's like to be in the shoes of an average American family" asked him if he knew the prices of gasoline, hamburger meat, milk, bread and blue jeans, and what it cost to go to a doctor. He complied without hesitation and the woman, Debbie Gilbert, said he had done "pretty good."

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