Clinton accentuates positives of his term

January 11, 1995|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- After biding his time for two months, President Clinton traveled to America's heartland yesterday in an attempt to reclaim his share of the national political spotlight.

Battling to emerge from the shadow of the new Republican majority in Congress, the president delivered what may have been the first pure campaign stump speech of the 1996 presidential campaign.

Addressing students at Sandburg Community College in Galesburg, Ill., Mr. Clinton lauded his own record as president, extolled the vision of his "middle-class bill of rights," and asserted that, while he knows Americans are worried about their future, he is the man best equipped to help them have a better one.

"What I want you to know is that we worked hard to get the fundamentals fixed," he said. "I want to spend the next two years working on lifting incomes and prospects and optimism -- and real hope -- for the future among people who are carrying the load in this country."

Mr. Clinton's speech kicked off a series of trips and speeches intended to reconnect him with middle-class voters who helped send him to Washington. Back at the White House, aides amplified on the strategy, which entails having the president concentrate on three things:

* He will use the phrase "middle class" like a mantra, explaining that these are the people he believes make America go -- and who have been given short shrift by the policies of the federal government.

* He will continually recite what he considers the impressive litany of accomplishments his administration has chalked up in two years.

* He will attempt to make these points to audiences that matter to his re-election chances -- and in locations that matter. On Friday, Mr. Clinton is be in Cleveland, and Monday he is scheduled to visit California.

Illinois, Ohio and California were states Mr. Clinton carried in 1992. They are all -- especially California -- considered essential for a Democrat in 1996.

"This is going to be a very sharply focused White House," said new presidential press secretary Michael McCurry. "Focused from a political standpoint and focused on explaining what he's done for the American people."

In looking ahead to 1996, Mr. Clinton yesterday dusted off an oldie from the 1992 campaign, calling for a "new covenant" in America that demands that citizens meet their responsibilities as well as exercise their rights.

Political leaders ought to be "expanding opportunity," Mr. Clinton said, "but only for those who will exercise the personal responsibility to make the most of those opportunities."

Mr. Clinton used similar language two years when he ran for president to underscore his pledge to be a "new kind of Democrat." Yesterday the president and his advisers indicated that they believe Mr. Clinton must recycle some of that language.

At the same time, they say the president must focus the attention of voters on positive developments since he took office.

Among those the president mentioned to the students yesterday were expanding Head Start, streamlining college loan programs, making the Federal Emergency Management Agency more responsive to disaster victims, cutting 100,000 workers out of the federal government and, most notably, creating an economic climate in which unemployment is down, inflation is under control and manufacturing is increasing.

"We have 5.6 million new jobs, and that's a good thing," he said. "Although not low enough to suit me, [the unemployment rate] dropped by more than 2 percent."

But the president didn't gloss over the problems in the economy, putting his finger on a fact of life that makes Americans apprehensive about the future and which analysts of both parties believe is hurting Mr. Clinton politically: stagnant wages.

The president said his solutions are to keep trying to open world trade, expand education opportunities and reduce the amount of taxes the government is taking from working people.

"There is no other way to do it," he said to applause.

In Baltimore, Vice President Al Gore was asked at a lunch with editors of The Sun about the administration's political strategy. Admitting he was a "biased" observer, Mr. Gore also provided a lengthy dissertation strikingly similar to the president's on what he sees as the administration's "rather extraordinary results," adding a few Mr. Clinton missed -- including the restoration of democracy in Haiti and signing the Family and Medical Leave Act.

A third event yesterday demonstrated how serious the president and his strategists are about coordinating their efforts to trumpet his accomplishments.

White House officials said Mr. Clinton has chosen Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut to be the party's general chairman. Senator Dodd will be paired with Don Fowler, a political consultant from Columbia, S.C., who will have the title DNC chairman and the responsibility for handling day-to-day operations.

During trying months for the Democrats, Mr. Dodd has been an unabashed defender, not only of his party, but of the president as well -- making him something of a rarity on Capitol Hill.

"Nothing concentrates the mind like sharing the megaphone with the Republicans," said Mr. McCurry. "The president will be telling the Republicans, 'You can't walk away with the arguments for the future. I care about the future as much as you do. I will match my vision against yours at any point along the way.' "

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