Election Day turnout is main concern of Clinton His campaign stresses the danger of complacency

Campaign 1996

November 01, 1996|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- President Clinton and his advisers can't imagine how their double-digit lead over Bob Dole could possibly evaporate in the next five days -- except for this one nagging little possibility.

The thought usually comes to them after the fourth speech of the day, after Clinton has shaken his 2,000th hand: "Turnout."

As Clinton aides reason, the only way that public opinion surveys, which have consistently favored Clinton, could prove wrong is if people who tell pollsters that they support Clinton don't actually turn out and vote Tuesday.

"These pollsters survey 'likely voters,' " said Joe Lockhart, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign. "The difference between 'likely' voters and actual voters can be the difference between getting put into office or going home empty-handed on Election Day."

Douglas Sosnik, the White House political director, added: "Unlike 1992, this election has not necessarily captured the imagination of the public, and so turnout is going to be lower than it was four years ago.

"One of the lessons of 1994, when we lost and the Republicans won, is that one side turned out and the other stayed home. We have to make sure our people aren't complacent -- that they don't think this is over and we don't have to worry."

The president and his surrogates are not subtle about it.

"Turnout! Turnout! Turnout! Turnout!," Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado thundered as he warmed up a Denver crowd for Clinton at the National Western Events Center Wednesday night. "If we do not get all of you on the streets Election Day " he said, his voice trailing off as though the thought were too horrific to utter.

When it was his time to speak, Clinton asked his small but buoyant audience, "Can you keep this up 'til Tuesday?"

Earlier in the evening, in subdued tones, Clinton told a group of blacks from Colorado: "You've got to show up. You know what to do. You know how to do it. I know you'll be there."

At Arizona State University outside Phoenix yesterday, the president concluded his speech by invoking a version of his symbolic refrain, "Bridge to the 21st century." This time, he listed turnout as the new barrier to be crossed.

"Will you help me in Arizona to build that bridge?" he implored. "Will you be there on Tuesday? Will you talk to your friends?"

Hours later in Las Vegas, Clinton addressed another sun-drenched crowd, assembled outside the Clark County Courthouse, and turned even more aggressive on the matter.

"Will you be there and vote?" he asked. "If you've voted already, will you bring someone else? You can go in the courthouse and do it right now. Be there, and we'll have a great celebration for America Tuesday night. Thank you, and God bless you and bear down!"

Arizona hasn't gone Democratic since it backed Harry Truman in 1948. So campaigning there this late has elements of a lark to it, despite polls that show Clinton leading in the state. But in visiting Colorado and Nevada, Clinton is campaigning in two of ++ only three states -- Montana is the other -- that his campaign believes went for him in 1992 but might be in jeopardy now.

The reason is Ross Perot, the third-party candidate who ran well in the West four years ago, hurting President George Bush in the process. This time, Perot doesn't appear to have captivated as many Republicans in the West. The race in those three states is thus close.

It is apparently widening in vote-rich California, however. In early October, a Field poll found that Clinton's lead there had shrunk to 10 points. But a new Field poll, released just before Clinton arrived in the Golden State last night, showed that his lead had risen to 18 points.

Despite the appearance of a small but determined number of hecklers at each stop, there is little evidence in the polls or along the campaign trail that voters are turning on the president because of recent allegations of improper fund-raising by John Huang, a top Democratic finance official with close ties to the White House.

Taking no chances, the president's staff is keeping reporters as far from Clinton as possible. Yesterday, despite having arrived at his hotel room at about 2 a.m., Clinton awoke early enough to sneak in nine holes of golf before taking off from Phoenix for Las Vegas.

A shouted question -- about Huang's numerous meetings at the White House after he left a senior position in the Commerce Department to raise money for Democrats -- produced only a snippet from the president that critics were "making a mountain out of a molehill."

When hecklers in Denver attracted his attention the night before, Clinton had taunted them back. "Bye folks," he said as security people hustled them out. "We'll see you Tuesday."

Turning back to his audience, Clinton, quoting Twain, shrugged and said, "Every dog needs a few fleas."

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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