Clinton fights negative ads by GOP From Ga. to Iowa, Democrat works to assuage fears

November 01, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- Fending off attacks while leveling his own, Bill Clinton streaked from the South to the farm belt yesterday, trying to calm the fears of voters exposed to a barrage of negative Republican advertisements.

In every contested state he visits, Mr. Clinton finds voters wondering whether to believe what the Republicans say about him in ads.

Would he roll back the clock on civil rights? Does he oppose oil drilling off the Louisiana coast? Would he require farmers to get government permission to use their land?

No, no, no, Mr. Clinton says, exasperated that he must spend much of his time defending himself.

The power of negative ads, the harshest of which run on radio and are targeted to particular audiences, was underscored by a new poll by the Atlanta Journal and Constitution that showed 41 percent of Southerners had a negative impression of the Arkansas governor, up from 26 percent in August.

Campaigning on Halloween in Georgia, Iowa and Wisconsin, Mr. Clinton sought to set the record straight on the GOP ads while relentlessly portraying himself as an agent of change with a bag of treats -- more jobs, health-care reform and college loans -- for the middle class.

In Davenport, a spirited Mr. Clinton stood in a cold rain for a half-hour shaking hands before giving a brief talk and announcing the winners in a children's costume contest. After reading off some of the winners' names, he joked, "The winner of the scariest [costume] is George Bush."

Earlier, in Decatur, Ga., a crowd estimated by police at 20,000 to 25,000 people -- the largest Mr. Clinton has had in days -- overflowed a football stadium at a local high school, waving U.S. flags and Clinton campaign posters.

Mr. Clinton tried to appear amused by the Republican ad caricatures of him even as he privately worried about their impact. He said the attacks changed depending on the location, labeling him and running mate Sen. Al Gore "environmental radicals" in one state, while charging in another that they "pollute the environment."

At one point he paraphrased Lucy in the comic strip "Peanuts," saying of the Republican strategy, "If you can't be right, be wrong as loud as you can."

"In the North, Mr. Bush bad-mouths me as being from a small Southern state. In the South, they try to convince you that Gore and Clinton are radical people that have no values like yours and we're going to trample everything Americans hold dear," he said.

But every point Mr. Clinton made at the Decatur rally was meant to assure voters he was as moderate as they were. "Empowerment and responsibility -- that's what we stand for," he said.

Central to his administration as president would be the "idea of opening the doors to a college education for all Americans, not as a gift but as a challenge." His plan to offer loans for college or vocational training to all who need it, with the possibility of paying them back with community service, is one of his most popular ideas, and the crowd cheered it.

Mr. Clinton's effort to depict himself to Southerners as one of them is receiving a big boost from Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn. Introducing him in Decatur, Mr. Nunn described him as an advocate of "hard work," "community" and "helping your neighbor."

For symbolic, patriotic effect, when the rally ended organizers released hundreds of red, white and blue balloons into the sunny sky.

Before Mr. Clinton spoke, his press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, said the Republican ads showed a "reckless disregard for the truth."

In Ohio, a Republican radio ad charging that Arkansas didn't have a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. tells voters to "think hard" about whether they want turn the clock back -- an attempt to weaken turnout among black voters. But Arkansas does have a holiday honoring both Dr. King and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

In Georgia, according to Ms. Myers, GOP ads charge erroneously that "Bill Clinton would close all the military bases." In Michigan, Republicans are attacking Mr. Clinton for his support of automobile fuel-efficiency standards of 40 mph.

As they rebutted Republican attacks, Clinton aides hoped that the latest twist in the Iran-contra story would put Mr. Bush on the defensive.

On Friday, a federal grand jury revealed evidence contradicting then-Vice President Bush's assertion that he did not know of the Ronald Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages deal. The evidence was in a 1986 note written by then-Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, who was newly indicted Friday on a charge of lying to Congress.

Democrats are determined at every opportunity to confront Mr. Bush with whether he has told the truth. When the president campaigned yesterday in Wisconsin, a plane flew overhead trailing a banner that read, "Iran-contra haunts you."

On Friday night, when Mr. Bush appeared on "Larry King Live" on CNN, Clinton communications director George Stephanopoulos called in. "For the last five years, you have consistently said it was not arms for hostages," he told Mr. Bush. "This memo shows it was arms for hostages."

But Mr. Clinton is not dwelling on this issue in his rallies, preferring to drive home the idea that four years of Mr. Bush are enough.

Trusting Mr. Bush to fix the economy is "like hiring General Sherman for fire commissioner in Georgia," he said, referring to the Union general who burned a swath across the state in the Civil War.

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