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Democrats Pledge a Positive Campaign as Clinton Arrives

Politics: Party will attempt to portray the president as an 'above the battle' statesman instead of a partisan leader. He seeks to be the first two-term Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt.


CHICAGO — President Clinton, his confidence cresting at the conclusion of a four-day, Midwestern whistle-stop tour, arrived here Wednesday night as delegates to the Democratic National Convention prepared to renominate him for what they hope will be the first two-term Democratic presidency in 60 years.

As the president's helicopter touched down, bringing to a close the final leg of his journey, Democratic Party delegates were already assembled at the nearby convention center, ready to formally select Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to be their standard-bearers in the November election.

In keeping with one of their major themes for the week--an attempt to portray Clinton as an "above the battle" statesman rather than a partisan leader--Democrats repeatedly pledged during the day's speeches that the Clinton-Gore team would mount a positive, well-intentioned campaign in the fall, rejecting the negativism that has caused so many American voters to become cynical or uninterested in politics.

Formally placing Clinton's name into nomination, the party chairman, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, took the highly unusual step of praising the nominee of the opposition party, his former Senate colleague, Bob Dole, complimenting him on his service and sacrifice for the country and calling him a "fine person," albeit one with "flawed ideas."

"It is not Bob Dole's reputation that I question," he said in his prepared text. "It is his agenda for America. Sometimes a fine person has flawed ideas. This is such a time."

The compliments were not, of course, purely altruistic. Democrats know that voters strongly dislike negative campaigns. But they also know that given Clinton's large lead in current polls, Republicans have little hope of winning unless they find a way to reduce the president's currently favorable image sharply.

By portraying themselves as the party with a "positive message," Democratic strategists may be able to put Republicans in the difficult position of either playing the politically unpopular role of the negative campaigner or of forgoing their most potent weapons--attacks on Clinton's character.

As for Gore, his speech was designed to lay out the accomplishments of the administration over the last four years. And he planned to draw a sharp contrast between Clinton, who just turned 50, and his 73-year-old opponent.

"Make no mistake: There is a profound difference in outlook between the president and the man who seeks his office," Gore said in his prepared text. "In his speech from San Diego, Sen. Dole offered himself as a bridge to the past. Tonight, Bill Clinton and I offer ourselves as a bridge to the future."

It was a genuinely triumphant arrival for Clinton, whose campaign has been reveling in good polling numbers, favorable convention reviews and the large crowds that came out to greet him as his "21st Century Express" train slowly snaked toward Chicago through West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

"Remember," Clinton told his audience at his final stop in Michigan City, Ind., "70 more days to four more years!"

Setting the Tone

Inside the convention hall, meanwhile, Dodd was expected to use his speech to set a respectful tone for the president's upcoming reelection campaign.

Drawing a contrast with the more partisan speeches at the Republican convention in San Diego earlier this month, Dodd, in his prepared text, called on all Democrats to make an effort to bring civility back into the national political discourse.

"On this August evening," Dodd said, "in this hall, I ask each and every one of you to pledge with me that this campaign will be worthy of the people we seek to lead and of the land we love. Let us do our part to restore civility to America's political discourse. . . . The American people are fed up with relentless assaults on people's reputations.

"This has to stop--and stop now."

And Dodd called on the Republicans to do the same.

"Stop attacking the president's family," he said. "Stick to the issues. We may at times oppose one another, but we must always respect each other."

In essence, Dodd was calling on the Republicans to stop attacking Clinton where he is vulnerable--on issues related to character, the Whitewater scandal and the alleged misdeeds of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Dodd drew a sharp distinction between Clinton and Dole on key issues that came across the president's desk over the last four years.

He noted that Clinton supported the Family Leave Act, increasing the minimum wage to $5.15 an hour and a woman's right to have an abortion, while Dole opposed each of those items. He added that Clinton opposed abolishing the Education Department and other key programs, while Dole advocated them.

Gore Gets Edge

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