Liberal group breaks tradition, backs Clinton Re-election bids rarely get support of Americans for Democratic Action

January 07, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to energize liberals disaffected with the Clinton administration, the Americans for Democratic Action yesterday endorsed President Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

Traditionally, the group has resisted backing incumbent Democratic presidents like Mr. Clinton, whom many of its members consider insufficiently liberal. But this year is different.

For the first time since 1955, the Republicans could win control of both the executive and legislative branches. And the question of whether Bill Clinton is ideologically pure enough has been replaced by the "life and death issue" of stemming the Republican revolution, said the ADA's national director, Amy Isaacs.

"I think people are saying this is going to be an election where people on the liberal side are going to mobilize in ways they haven't probably since Barry Goldwater," said U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is an ADA board member. "And as a matter of fact people here are looking back nostalgically on Barry Goldwater as a relatively benign figure compared to this group."

Over the past year as the Republicans have taken center stage in Washington, the group's membership has increased to 65,000, from about 50,000, the biggest surge since the Vietnam War and Watergate era.

Founded in 1947, the ADA is a small but symbolically important organization in which labor leaders work closely with liberal politicians and activists.

In 1968, the ADA was the first national organization to back Sen. Eugene McCarthy's primary challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The organization will now raise and spend money independently on behalf of Mr. Clinton. But the impact of the ADA's efforts on presidential campaigns, which cost more than $50 million, may be limited.

During the 1992 presidential general election, the group spent -- less than $50,000. But the organization's officials said they hoped to raise significantly more money this time.

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