Taking lesson from Bush, Clinton campaigns early

ON POLITICS

September 15, 1995|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- The word that President Clinton will embark on a political fund-raising swing next week is the clearest indication that, unlike President Bush before him, he is not going to permit the burdens of governing to get in the way of his quest for a second term.

Bush's campaign strategists acknowledged after his 1992 loss to Clinton that a good part of the incumbent's problem in seeking re-election was his insistence on remaining "presidential."

He not only eschewed early campaigning, but even held off building the campaign staff and organization essential for success.

Clinton doesn't want to make that mistake.

In disclosing the president's swing through Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado and California, White House press secretary Mike McCurry observed that "you learn from recent political history," referring to the Bush experience.

The ability of some earlier incumbent presidents like Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 to win renomination and re-election with a "Rose Garden strategy" -- that is, campaigning essentially from the White House -- may have convinced Bush that he could do the same.

Bush was renominated, but in staying on the sidelines too long he enabled challenger Pat Buchanan to bloody him politically in the 1988 New Hampshire primary, where Buchanan alleged that Bush didn't care about the economic hard times Republicans in that state were undergoing.

Buchanan stayed in the race to the end, forcing Bush to devote excessive time and money shaking him off.

Two other incumbents who used a Rose Garden strategy for renomination -- Gerald Ford in 1976 and Jimmy Carter in 1980 -- also survived challenges, Ford from Reagan and Carter from Ted Kennedy, but both lost their presidencies.

Carter pleaded the pressures of the hostage crisis in Iran to stay off the campaign trail; Ford didn't dodge the trail so much as he had it lead to the White House, where Republican politicians with delegates to swap for favors beat a steady path.

Ford stooped to the point where he had a county Republican chairman from New York into the Oval Office to hear his pitch for more federal aid for local sewers.

One obvious reason that Clinton can take to the stump so early is that he has no challenger as of now for the Democratic nomination. While many members of his party are unenthusiastic about a second Clinton candidacy, nobody is out there beating him over the head.

Clinton is free to accentuate the positive about his record and aim his fire at the Republicans before Democratic audiences as he seeks next week to double the $9 million he already has raised for the 1996 campaign.

Although the president is unopposed within his own party, plenty is being said negatively about him as the current Republican field of 10 competes for voter attention.

Also, all the talk about public dissatisfaction with both major parties and the growing speculation about possible independent

candidacies by retired Gen. Colin Powell, retiring Sen. Bill Bradley, Ross Perot, Jesse Jackson and former Gov. Lowell Weicker all reflect poorly on the incumbent.

Bradley's observations about the failures of his own party especially were a slap, intentional or not, at Clinton. So are the doubts just expressed by Powell on the Clinton administration's conduct of foreign policy at a time the retired general is basking ++ in public approval and uncritical news coverage.

So it is politically prudent for the president to don his political hat now, well before he formally tosses it into the ring for 1996, a step not expected until early next year.

With Congress approaching crunch time on the budget, Clinton is going to be kept extremely busy governing in Washington through the fall, as well as involving himself in the Bosnian crisis as it appears to be reaching a critical point.

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