As Clinton's standing in polls rises, fewer politicians are ducking him

November 01, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Sun Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- President Clinton, flush from foreign policy successes and rising in the opinion polls, began a weeklong campaign swing yesterday that he hopes will push threatened Democratic candidates over the top to victory in the midterm elections.

"This country is better off than it was 21 months ago," Mr. Clinton told an audience gathered at City Hall here. "We're going in the right direction. Let's don't turn back."

The president, who styled himself "The Comeback Kid" during the 1992 presidential campaign after he bounced back from early missteps, sounded ebullient yesterday and appeared pleased to be back on the stump.

As he strode into the fortress-like courtyard where he spoke, Mr. Clinton saw a woman carrying a placard proclaiming that the new crime bill would mean more police officers on Philadelphia's streets. Mr. Clinton gave her a thumbs-up sign and mouthed the words, "That's right."

The president's political advisers were also buoyed by the fact that Mr. Clinton was finally campaigning with -- and actually giving a boost to -- Democratic candidates.

"Make no mistake about it," proclaimed Mayor Edward G. Rendell. "This president is on a roll!"

Until this week, the White House has had trouble rounding up Democrats who would actively campaign with Mr. Clinton. Trailing Republican challengers all over the country, facing a potentially big Republican year and fearful that Mr. Clinton's low popularity ratings would drag them down, many Democratic candidates have been avoiding the president of their own party.

That was not the case in Pennsylvania, and there are signs that as Mr. Clinton's approval rating inches up toward 50 percent, it will be less of a problem in other places, too. Mr. Clinton plans quick pre-election trips to Michigan, Ohio, Rhode Island, New York, Iowa, Minnesota, California and Washington state.

"If he can rally the troops in Kuwait, he can do it in Pennsylvania," said Stanley Greenberg, Mr. Clinton's pollster. "That's what we're trying to do, obviously."

Mr. Clinton was accompanied on his Pennsylvania swing by numerous Democratic strategists, including Mr. Greenberg; David Wilhelm, the Democratic national chairman; and Paul Begala, a key '92 Clinton campaign aide and an adviser to Sen. Harris Wofford, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is locked in a difficult race for re-election.

Yesterday, those who shared the microphone with Mr. Clinton and flanked him on the podium included Mr. Wofford; Mark Singel, the Democratic candidate for governor; and Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, a suburban congresswoman who cast the deciding House vote for Mr. Clinton's 1993 budget package and is in trouble because of it.

Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky seemed reluctant to speak, but few other Democrats were shy.

"I'm here because I'm running with the president of the United States," shouted Rep. Thomas M. Foglietta, a Democrat who represents a Philadelphia district in the House. "I'm running with the president because if I have a problem that affects . . . Philadelphia, he talks to me and he listens and he helps me."

Mr. Foglietta credited Mr. Clinton with creating 1 million jobs, performing "an international miracle" in Haiti and being the "greatest president since John F. Kennedy."

Mr. Wofford, fighting an uphill battle against his Republican challenger, Rep. Rick Santorum, also spoke warmly of Mr. Clinton's tenure in the White House and launched a spirited attack on Mr. Santorum -- one that Mr. Clinton seconded in his own remarks.

"You know, Harris Wofford doesn't always vote with me, but he always votes for you -- and you ought to keep him there," Mr. Clinton told the crowd.

There was no pretense in what Mr. Clinton was trying to do in Pennsylvania: First, make a confident-looking appearance on local television, the slate of Democratic candidates by his side. Second, bolster the spirits of loyal Democratic activists so they will work on Election Day next Tuesday to turn out the vote.

"We're all preaching to the saved," Mr. Clinton acknowledged at one point to his Philadelphia audience of mostly union members. "You've got to preach to someone else."

The theme Democrats have chosen to run on is their claim that the Republicans' support for Social Security is suspect.

On the press plane to Philadelphia, Mr. Wilhelm unearthed a new anti-Republican ad on Social Security -- and Mr. Clinton hammered away at this point in his speeches.

"Senator Wofford's opponent says that he wants to raise the retirement age to 70, and, I quote, 'further, if I could,' " Mr. Clinton said. "Well, he can't do that if you don't let him."

The smooth day of campaigning didn't mask the underlying misgivings the president's strategists have about Nov. 8. Although Mr. Clinton's approval rating is rising, there is little evidence that this has meant increased support for Democrats across the board.

The other source of concern for Democrats yesterday was the sparse crowds for the president.

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