Clinton, riding high in polls, spends Labor Day in Wisconsin President asks large crowds to help 'build a bridge' to future

Campaign 1996

September 03, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

MILWAUKEE -- President Clinton, acting as though his lead in the polls was one point instead of 20, used the traditional Labor Day campaign kickoff not as a beginning, but a wrap-up of a

nine-day campaign swing through the great battleground states of the Midwest.

Everywhere he went, the president asked enthusiastic crowds to help him "build a bridge to the 21st century." It is an image White House strategists say they believe will reinforce the differences in age and outlook between Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole.

"Fundamentally, this year we face a choice between building a bridge to the future and building a bridge to the past," Clinton said.

The president also directly challenged Dole, as he has during his entire campaign swing, on the Republicans' proposed tax cuts. Dole is calling for a 15 percent across-the-board income tax cut, a $500-per-child tax credit and a halving of the capital gains tax.

Clinton has proposed tax cuts, too, but they are smaller, carefully targeted so that only college students or those in the middle of the middle-class can get them. In Chicago, Clinton also proposed virtually doing away with capital gains taxes on houses, a proposal he has barely mentioned since unveiling it in his acceptance speech.

"The other guys will say, 'We ought to have one that's five times as big. We'll give you more money -- vote for us,' " Clinton said. Doing so would add to the federal budget deficit, a subject Clinton told audiences yesterday he understood was "boring," but important nevertheless.

"Let me tell you why you should care about it," he said. "Because if the government goes in and borrows money at the same time you're trying to, what will happen? Interest rates will go up. If that happens, your mortgage payment, your car payment, your credit payment will go up. Folks, would you go to the bank yourself and borrow money to give yourself a tax cut?"

Public opinion surveys show that if the voting were held today, the president would sweep to a victory in both the popular vote and the Electoral College -- with Texas billionaire Ross Perot a distant third, carrying not a single state. In addition, a Gallup Poll done for USA Today and CNN showed Clinton with a daunting 60 percent approval rating yesterday -- with just over nine weeks left in the campaign.

While Clinton's advisers say they do not know if that trend will hold up, they are positioning their candidate as if locked in a neck-and-neck struggle. If the race does tighten, history tells them that the winner would be the one who ran strongest in the traditional Midwest battleground states. And it is there that the president has spent the last week, visiting nine states, plus his Arkansas home, by train, bus, car, and plane.

The campaign, with help from organized labor, has done a good job of turning out October-sized crowds. Yesterday in De Pere, Wis., he drew a crowd estimated at 25,000 and another 10,000 in Milwaukee. Buttons on sale included the classic, "Cheeseheads for Clinton." Signs at the first event included, "Clinton, Gore and Packers in '96," a reference to the storied pro football team just up the road in Green Bay.

Later, Clinton went to the Packers' practice where he told the team he was entranced by their return to glory. Before leaving TC the field, Clinton begged someone to throw him a pass. "I'm a big target," he said. As political aides cringed, a military aide complied. Clinton caught the ball -- and then threw a perfect spiral back. White House press secretary Mike McCurry, sheet-white at the thought of a presidential fumble, confessed later his reaction was, "No. No. No. Yes!"

Such region-specific support brought a smile to the face of Clinton's political aides. Surveying the overflow crowd in De Pere, White House political director Douglas Sosnik noted that George Bush and the Republicans had carried the local county narrowly over Clinton in 1992.

Asked why he was coming here now, Sosnik said, "We want to break their backs."

Later, in Milwaukee, Clinton addressed the citizens of Wisconsin's largest city at LaborFest, where he was joined on the podium by several powerful labor bosses, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who lauded the president for his 1996 veto of a proposed law that would have allowed management to select workers on nonunion "teams" that would negotiate everything from work rules and wage issues to quality control issues.

"Do we want to go back to the time when company unions got to decide who got what jobs, or who stayed and who goes?" Sweeney asked. "Do we want to go back to the time when the only rule is that there are no rules?"

When it was his turn to speak, Clinton talked very little about labor issues, sticking instead to the script honed on his train ride through Ohio, Indiana and Michigan -- and delivered at just over an hour's length to a national audience in Chicago.

Pub Date: 9/03/96

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