President courting 'Reagan Democrats' Midwest appearances designed to woo swing voters

September 18, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FLOSSMOOR, Ill. -- President Clinton dropped in yesterday on two Midwest battleground states that would be crucial in the event of a close election -- and made an aggressive pitch for the "Reagan Democrats" and independents whose support could help guarantee him a second term.

On the surface, there was nothing extraordinary about his trip to Michigan and Illinois. In both states, the president delivered what has become his standard stump speech. In it, Clinton recounts the positive economic figures coming out of Washington, boasts of signing legislation such as family leave and a health care bill his wife once dismissed as "incremental," and asks his audiences to help him "build a bridge to the 21st century."

Choosing the target

But behind the boilerplate rhetoric, the Clinton campaign is targeting those states, demographic groups -- even neighborhoods -- that it believes can help the president build toward a smashing Election Day victory.

In a tour of a vocational center in Ypsilanti, Mich., that campaign aides said they hoped would appeal to blue-collar voters, Clinton's advance staff made sure that the president donned protective goggles before arriving in camera range. Later, at a high school, the president cited a new Justice Department study that estimates that 9 percent fewer Americans were the victim of a crime in 1995 than in 1994 -- a figure that aides said could appeal to swing voters who traditionally mistrust Democrats on issues of law and order.

The venues for Clinton's appearances were also meticulously chosen, according to campaign officials. Ypsilanti, which is west of Detroit, and the Chicago suburb of Flossmoor where Clinton spoke at the high school are both prime territories for Reagan Democrats.

"These places were very carefully selected," said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary. "We get local media exposure back to our base [downtown Chicago and Detroit], while having him back a personal impression with swing voters."

Thumbs in Dole's eye

The mood of the Clinton camp yesterday was almost jaunty. Besides trying to nail down his liberal base and reach out to moderate swing voters, the campaign each week makes a point of sticking a thumb in Bob Dole's eye with a foray into usually staunch Republican territory. This week, the Clintonites are feeling so bold that they are doing it twice.

The first is a minor detour from Chicago to Seattle via Arizona, a solidly Republican state where the president will announce an environmental initiative that would preserve almost 2 million acres of pristine acres in southern Utah. His aides concede that this is less a pitch for Arizona voters than an attempt to shore up support among environmentalists on the West Coast. But polls show Clinton is competitive in Arizona, which he visited last week, and his campaign spokesman, Joe Lockhart, insisted that the Clinton brain trust thinks it's winnable.

Before the ink was dry on this week's four-day trip, the Clinton strategists added something to the itinerary so brazen that they chuckled when they announced it. The new wrinkle is a hurried Friday-night stopover on the way home in South Dakota, a state so firmly Republican that it has gone Democratic exactly once since World War II -- and not even when a native son, George McGovern, headed the presidential ticket in 1972.

Together, White House aides and traveling reporters groaned when they saw the schedule change, but Lockhart said, "We've made some real progress there."

He did not have a straight face when he said it.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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