Clinton's 100th day brings no rush to judgment from bus route CLINTON'S FIRST 100 DAYS

April 29, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

Today is the 100th day of Bill Clinton's administration, the calendar says.

So what, the American people reply.

For Washington insiders, the 100-day milestone takes on such compelling symbolic importance that pundits hover over the new administration like biology students over a dead frog -- eager to get extra credit for finishing the dissection before 95 days have passed.

But follow the route of the first Clinton-Gore bus trip from the gritty streets of Camden, N.J., through the smoky steel towns of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, into the rolling hills of Ohio and the pancake-flat plains of south-central Illinois -- and you find that today isn't the 100th day. It's just Thursday.

The people will decide, they say, in their own good time.

"I understand change won't happen overnight," says Gary Davis, a defense industry worker in Camden, where Bill Clinton and Al Gore made the first stop of a six-day post-convention campaign swing that turned the humble bus into a chariot of political fire.

"I don't think it's been long enough to judge the man," says Terrence Smith, a California trucker taking a breather at the All-American Truck Stop in Carlisle, Pa., where 4,500 people turned out last July to cheer the youthful nominees.

"He has a couple of years to get everything cleaned up," says Erika Woodruff, a waitress at the Pioneer Restaurant in Utica, Ohio, where so many supporters turned out for a Clinton rally that the governor closed the roads into town.

The crowds that lined the highways for the original bus trip are scattered now, but a traveler retracing the bus trip route last week could still hear the echoes of excitement in the voices of those who shook hands with the president-to-be or heard him speak at the height of his popularity.

A scientific pollster would not choose this method of taking America's political temperature.

The Clinton campaign did not choose the route to reflect a cross-section of America, but to send a message to voters that Bill Clinton needed to win in the Rust Belt states -- and did.

But four days spent following the Clinton-Gore trail (minus a leg between Columbus, Ohio, and Evansville, Ind.) gave revealing insights into the thinking of the voters, who Mr. Clinton will need to retain or win over if he is to avoid the ignominy of a one-term presidency.

There is no revolt in the heartland, but there are rumblings. A cluster of trial balloons has cast a shadow over the country, raising concerns that Mr. Clinton is a bit too tax-happy. His proposal to let gays serve openly in the military has cut a cultural gap between himself and some of his strongest supporters. And his early appearances on the international stage are winning him little applause from an an inward-looking electorate.

But Mr. Clinton has not drained his reservoir of goodwill. Some of his policies are unpopular, but he himself is not. He made a good personal impression in the cities and towns he visited, even among people who voted against him. For most voters, the character demons that pursued him through the 1992 campaign were exorcised in the inauguration rite.

And overwhelmingly, even voters who didn't support Mr. Clinton say they wouldn't turn back the clock to the Bush administration even if they could.

They might not like Mr. Clinton's brand of change, but change is still what they want.

Camden, N.J.

Little Nipper, the dog who quizzically listens to "His Master's Voice" from his spot on the tower of an old RCA plant, presides over a sprawling complex of gleaming new factory buildings at the GE Aerospace Park, on a historic site where many technologies of the Age of Radio were born.

It was to this high-tech enclave that the Digital Age Democratic ticket headed after a rousing send-off at Madison Square Garden.

Barry J. Lem, a friendly young Chinese-American wearing an Orioles cap, recalls the visit as a big boost for the company's worker retraining efforts, which Mr. Clinton extolled as a model. As the company's manager of special projects, Mr. Lem worked directly with Clinton advance team members in making arrangements for the visit, and he was impressed with their enthusiasm and professionalism.

But he wasn't impressed enough to vote for Mr. Clinton. He cast a "protest vote" for Ross Perot because he didn't want "business as usual."

While Mr. Perot is moving into active opposition to Mr. Clinton, Mr. Lem is more favorably disposed to his new president. He's willing to pay higher taxes to cut the deficit, and he doesn't mind paying for a health care program.

"We still have some of it, but I think he's trying not to make it business as usual, I'll give him that," Mr. Lem says.

"Clinton is at least willing to step up and deal with the tough issues."

But the stands Mr. Clinton has taken on some tough issues have made assembler Steve Bohnmassa regret he voted for the Democrat. "I don't like letting in the Haitians with AIDS into our country. I don't like gays in the military," says Mr. Bohnmassa.

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