Some other indications of Clinton's strength ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

October 29, 1992|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

JACKSON, Miss. -- As Bill Clinton heads into the final weekend of the 1992 presidential campaign, his stops in the last few days in Louisiana (nine electoral votes), Mississippi (seven) and Kentucky (eight) tell much about his confidence and strategy down the homestretch.

They underscore, first of all, his sense of security that his lead holds solid in the states with much larger electoral-vote prizes, so much so that he could afford to spend the time going after the peanuts in the barrel.

The stops also confirm the strategy, with that security, of going after parts of what should ordinarily be President Bush's base, in states that Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and Bush in 1988 carried handily. Clinton strategists insist, however, that they are not merely seeking to get the president's campaign to commit 11th-hour resources to these states, but are out to beat him there.

This obvious confidence goes only so far. From now until Tuesday's election, Clinton will be back in many of the key states of the Middle Atlantic and Midwestern industrial belt where polls show him comfortably ahead but under desperate challenge from the president.

These include Ohio (21 electoral votes), probably Bush's best Rust Belt chance, Michigan (18), Pennsylvania (23), New Jersey (15) and Wisconsin (11). At the same time, aides say, Clinton may take one more shot at one or more key Southern states where he appears to be competitive, including Bush's home state of Texas (32), Florida (25) and Georgia (13).

Considered to be in the bag with no need for a final-weekend appearance by the Democratic nominee are California (54), New York (33) and Illinois (22), which together would give him 40 percent of the total of 270 needed for election.

Of the other eight listed above as certain or possible campaign stops before Tuesday, Clinton leads in most statewide polls except Texas, where he is running close and may get help from Texan Ross Perot cutting into Bush support.

But, for Clinton, the time of going fishing for electoral votes in small Southern states is over as he zeros in on the most serious battleground states in his final push -- some of which the president also will contest with homestretch appearances.

The Bush schedule invites the conclusion that the president's strategists still hope to patch together 270 electoral votes by nickel-and-diming -- that is, making up for probable losses in many of the larger states by picking up small batches in smaller and moderate-sized states.

That hope is suggested by visits in the closing days not only to Michigan but also to Missouri and Wisconsin (11 electoral votes each). Wisconsin is particularly surprising in that Bush failed to beat Michael Dukakis there four years ago. But the president is making a whistle-stop train trip through the state Saturday.

The harsh reality of the electoral-vote picture for the president overwhelms the evidence in some national polls that Clinton's popular-vote lead may be shrinking to single digits. The White House is awarded by electoral votes, not the popular vote, and Clinton is so far ahead by the electoral-vote reckoning that only some major political cataclysm or international crisis is likely to put his election in jeopardy now.

And there has been nothing in the president's own political performance to suggest sufficient movement to make him a winner. His share of the vote in most surveys has failed to go over about 35 percent, with Clinton consistently in the mid- to high 40s -- enough to win in a three-way race with Perot, who has never registered more than about 20 percent since he got back into the race.

In the electoral-vote contest, Perot is not a factor in any state except Texas, where conceivably he could win enough support to deny its 32 votes to Bush.

While much attention has been paid all fall to the polls, there are two other measuring sticks that are just as significant to gauging how a campaign is going.

One is whether other candidates on each ticket are embracing or running away from the top of the ticket. This fall, Democrats are elbowing each other to get next to Clinton, while Republicans are shying away from Bush. The other is where the candidates go in the final days, and on this score it is clear how desperate the outlook is for Bush's re-election.

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