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Clinton Speech Is Still a Work in Progress

Nomination: President has played hooky from drafting acceptance address to mingle with folks along train route. Polishing is scheduled for today.


KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Between speechmaking and rope-line duty, President Clinton has been grinding away at his nomination acceptance speech with all the diligence of the A-student he once was. Well, maybe not all the diligence.

To the chagrin of his speech-writing team, the president has played a bit of hooky during his rail trip to Chicago to mingle with admirers and hail onlookers from the rear platform of the train.

"He's been working on his speech, but not as religiously as some on the train would like--in part because I think he's having too much fun seeing people along the way," said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary.

Clinton did buckle down Wednesday morning, scribbling changes on a draft as the campaign train stopped in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo en route to its final depot in Michigan City, Ind.

At one point he told reporters the speech was "coming along. But it needs some work."

The president has set aside a large block of time today to polish the speech at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago, where he will be staying. And aides say he may wander over to the convention center to get familiar with the podium and TelePrompTer he will be using. Clinton has actually finished the text once or twice, said McCurry, "then he resurrects it and works on it some more."

Clinton and the four members of the speech-writing team have been working in two different spots on the train: in a wood-paneled coach car that's just ahead of Clinton's parlor car and in a work space farther forward.

Unlike with some of his speeches earlier in his term, Clinton has not been calling a lot of friends and experts for ideas. He's actually using his new book, "Between Hope and History," as a structure for the address.

That book was itself a compendium of themes, phrases, anecdotes and proposals that Clinton has collected since the 1994 midterm election. He started thinking about the speech last November, aides say; the group buckled down to work about a month ago.

Helping with the speech have been domestic policy advisor Bruce Reed, speech writers Michael Waldman and Richard Prince, and communications director Don Baer. But White House aides, trying to draw a contrast with GOP nominee Bob Dole, said this speech belongs to Clinton rather than his helpers.

One administration official said the speech could be accurately described as a sort of State of the Union II--an address bristling with policy proposals.

Clinton has been touching on some of the speech's main themes in his whistle-stop addresses, saying he has the country back on the right track to future economic security and stronger support for families.

Placing himself above the inter-party fray, he rarely mentions Dole by name--talking only of his "opponents."

The response from crowds in small towns and cities in West Virginia, Ohio and Michigan has been enthusiastic.

One of the final events was marred Wednesday when a 20-foot speaker stand collapsed into a crowd of spectators awaiting Clinton's arrival in Michigan City.

At least six people were injured. Several suffered deep cuts and were rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

The accident happened about 4:30 p.m., shortly after the Indiana state Democratic Party chairman, Joe Andrew, introduced state Rep. Thomas Alevizos of Michigan City. The metal stand holding two large public-address speakers abruptly toppled.

"Everybody stay calm," Alevizos said. "We need medics."

Clinton had not arrived at the rally site. After the injured were evacuated, the other spectators waited for Clinton's address. Michigan City was the last stop on the presidential rail excursion, which began Sunday in Huntington, W.Va. After his Michigan City appearance, Clinton took a helicopter to Chicago to join the convention festivities.

Despite the accident and logistics difficulties, the train trip has been considered a success by White House and Clinton campaign officials. It has drawn large crowds, received extensive media attention and provided a colorful buildup for the convention.

Film of the moving train shot from a helicopter hovering overhead has been relayed periodically to the convention arena by satellite and shown on the huge video board behind the speaker's podium, drawing loud cheers from the delegates.

Clinton's acceptance speech tonight is intended to bring the convention to an emotional peak, energize Democratic political workers and delegates and propel the campaign into its final, frenzied two months.

After the speech, Clinton is to embark on a two-day bus tour, named "On the Road to the 21st Century." Beginning in Cape Girardeau, Mo., the president, joined by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Gore's wife, Tipper, will visit Cairo, Ill., Paducah, Ky., Dyersburg, Tenn., and Memphis.

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