Candidates make final pleas Election Day dawns with Clinton holding strong lead in polls

Dole barnstorms 6 states

Control of Congress too close to call

voter turnout likely to drop

Campaign 1996

November 05, 1996|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Campaigning deep into the night, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole delivered final appeals for support as the 1996 presidential race came to an end early today.

It was, in all probability, the last time each veteran politician would seek votes on his own behalf. Before heading wearily to their home states to vote, both planned to campaign past midnight, refusing to quit until Election Day dawned.

About 100 million Americans are expected to vote today, a projected decline in turnout from four years ago. Public interest in the election has remained at low levels, amid signs that the angry mood that boosted turnout in 1992 and 1994 has faded and many voters appear content with the status quo.

The closest race is likely to be the struggle for control of the Congress, with Republicans favored to hold the Senate and, perhaps, the House as well. But dozens of races were still rated tossups.

A final round of national polls in the presidential race showed Clinton continuing to lead Dole by a margin of 10 percentage points or more, and some predicted that an electoral vote landslide was within the president's grasp.

Ross Perot, despite a brief surge toward the close of the campaign, was expected to finish a distant third, with less than the 19 percent he received in 1992.

"Now, folks, I have done all I can do," Clinton told about 10,000 Democrats at a rally in Cleveland yesterday. "It's in your corner now, and you must seize the day."

As he has done successfully for more than a year, Clinton cast himself as a brake on the conservative Republican Congress and on what he described as "their risky scheme [that would] wreck our economy."

He left it to Vice President Al Gore to make a pitch for electing a Democratic Congress. Gore offered as an "incentive" the fact that a Democratic takeover would oust House Speaker Newt Gingrich from power.

"With your help, we'll take back the Congress of the United States," Gore said, as chants of "four more years" rose from the crowd. "Don't let the Republican candidates fool you in their efforts to try to separate themselves from Gingrich and Dole. It is not an accurate presentation of who they really are."

The president has set a personal goal of winning a clear majority of the popular vote, which would allow him to proclaim a second-term mandate. In 1992, in another three-man race, he was elected with 43 percent of the vote.

The 50 percent target appeared to be within reach, some polls showed, but others indicated that he might fall short.

As he tore through his last day as a candidate, Clinton was, by turns, boastful and sentimental.

Recalling how carrying Ohio had clinched his election four years ago, Clinton told voters there: "You took us on faith then. But now you don't have to. This state is better off than four years ago, in every way."

Earlier, in Manchester, N.H., the 50-year-old president recalled one of the turning points of his political career.

It was in New Hampshire in 1992 that Clinton, besieged by allegations of womanizing and draft dodging, managed to salvage his candidacy with a strong second-place finish in the state's presidential primary.

"I said in Dover, N.H., in 1992, that if you would give me a chance to be president, I would be with you till the last dog died," Clinton said to cheers and applause. "Folks, there's a lot of life left in this ol' dog."

Before he and Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to Little Rock, Ark., where they are to vote and watch the election returns, Clinton planned a final speech early this morning in South Dakota, whose three electoral votes may matter less than the Senate contest there.

Democrats in South Dakota are hoping to unseat Sen. Larry Pressler, considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the 34 Senate elections today.

Meantime, Dole ignored polls that indicated his long political career was ending.

He raced through a half-dozen states on the concluding day of his third national campaign, urging crowds to deliver the greatest upset in American political history.

"I believe in all my heart, you are the pundits, you are the polls, and you are going to decide this election," the 73-year-old former senator said in Houston.

His vocal cords raw after almost four nonstop days of campaigning, Dole pressed the attack on his opponent's character right to the end.

"I may not keep my voice, but I'll keep my word. I'll keep my word," he promised, as former President George Bush helped lead the applause.

Dole has likened the controversy over the Democrats' foreign donations to Watergate, and he has predicted that Clinton will "spend half his time next year with investigations," if he's re-elected. Yesterday, he said, "Now if you want a full-time president who won't be going to hearings or trials or anything else, Bob Dole is your choice."

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