Clinton crowds chant, 'One more week' to go

October 28, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

LaFAYETTE, La. -- Though still concerned about Ross Perot, Bill Clinton campaigned yesterday like a confident front-runner, staging rallies in three Southern states President Bush won easily in 1988.

The crowds responded enthusiastically at all of Mr. Clinton's stops. Sensing victory, they often interrupted to chant, "One more week," a reference to the short time Mr. Bush and Mr. Perot have to overtake Mr. Clinton on Election Day.

New polls showed Mr. Perot's post-debate popularity surge subsiding and support for Mr. Clinton stabilizing. The latest polls also show that normally Republican Florida, where Mr. Clinton drew a large crowd yesterday, is now rated a tossup.

While Clinton aides would not say that the Perot threat had ended, they nevertheless suggested that Mr. Clinton stood to benefit from the controversy over Mr. Perot's unsubstantiated charges that Republican "dirty tricks" drove him from the race during the summer.

"We gain if the governor stays focused on his own message," said Clinton strategist Paul Begala, referring to the largely economic themes of the campaign.

That's exactly what the Arkansas governor did in Augusta, Ga., yesterday morning, the first stop in a day in which he also campaigned in Tampa, Fla., and Lafayette, La. Today he is to stump in Texas, Mississippi and Kentucky before beginning a swing through the Midwest and New Jersey.

Mr. Clinton has only briefly touched on the Perot controversy, suggesting he was above the fray.

"Did you see the television last night?" he asked, referring to Mr. Perot's charges that Republicans conspired to smear his daughter before her wedding. "Mr. Bush a few months ago accused Mr. Perot of investigating his children. It looks to me like what we ought to be investigating is these children -- their future, their promise."

The children he referred to were part of an audience of several thousand supporters of all ages overflowing an amphitheater on the banks of the Savannah River. Mr. Clinton made a dramatic entrance, arriving by boat while the crowd cheered.

He was greeted by Sen. Sam Nunn, and the two praised each other to the heavens, adding more fuel to speculation that the Georgian might be named secretary of defense in a Clinton administration.

Mr. Clinton was hoarse and puffy-eyed, the effects of an %J around-the-clock campaign schedule that allowed him no more than three hours of sleep yesterday.

Mr. Nunn rebutted what he said were false allegations Republicans were circulating about Mr. Clinton in Georgia and elsewhere, including Energy Secretary James D. Watkins' charge that Mr. Clinton would close the Savannah River Site, a federal nuclear facility.

"There are so many charges made by the Bush-Quayle campaign now it is going to be hard for voters to know what's true," said Mr. Nunn, who claimed the Bush campaign was "panicking."

As if to make Mr. Nunn's point, a heckler shouted "draft dodger" at Mr. Clinton and was led away by police. The crowd booed the heckler, but Mr. Clinton urged calm: "Just relax, you only have to put up with it for six more days."

Mr. Clinton, as he has done regularly, portrayed himself as a "new Democrat" divorced from the tax-and-spend policies of the past.

"I am trying to build a new Democratic Party that believes in growth in the private sector, that believes not in bigger government but effective government. That believes in partnership between government and business and labor and education.

"That believes that you don't have a person to waste and we have to have a real education president. That believes we have to become the last advanced nation to control health care costs and provide basic health care to all Americans."

Eschewing specifics, Mr. Clinton continued: "I want to create more millionaires in my presidency than Bush and Quayle did. But I have the crazy idea that they ought to make it the old-fashioned way, by putting the rest of America back to work."

Mr. Clinton's speech was well-tailored to the South, where moderate and conservative voters have shunned Democratic presidential nominees in recent elections. Asked in Georgia whether he had a chance to win in the region, he said, "I think I do," and denied that he was merely trying to force Mr. Bush to spend more time campaigning in states the president had hoped to have locked up.

In Tampa, Mr. Clinton seemed more pumped up as he delivered a spirited speech that included more attacks on Mr. Bush. He also sought to distinguish himself from Mr. Perot without naming him, a soft-sell tactic that illustrated the campaign's belief that TTC Mr. Clinton is better off not attacking the Texas billionaire.

"There's been a lot of talk about change in this country," Mr. Clinton told thousands of partisans jammed together on the street in downtown Tampa. "But let me just tell you: Of all the people you could vote for, there's only one who has ever balanced a government budget, only one who has never been a part of the Washington insider establishment, only one who has ever done anything to make the political system less responsive to lobbyists and special-interest groups, only one who has ever passed a tough program through the legislature."

Assailing the Bush administration's economic record, he said, "While Mr. Bush has been in the White House, we've lost 1,400,000 manufacturing jobs.

Mr. Clinton said that all the Republicans "do is run up the fear flag." He exhorted voters to have the "courage to change."

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