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Clinton Takes Upbeat Message Into Arizona

Politics: Swing through GOP bastion, Nevada and California touts American dream. Santa Barbara speech is slated to focus on campaign-finance reform.

November 01, 1996|JONATHAN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHOENIX — President Clinton pressed his relentless bid for reelection through the Republican stronghold of Arizona on Thursday, proclaiming progress on a broad spectrum of family concerns while imploring voters to come to the polls on election day.

"Will you be there Tuesday?" he asked the thousands who turned up at a rally under a cloudless sky at Arizona State University. "Will you talk to your friends?"

Clinton campaigned later in the day in Nevada and was scheduled to address a rally in downtown Oakland on Thursday evening. The president and his entourage were to spend the night in Santa Barbara, where today he is slated to address the one issue that has caused him political headaches of late--campaign financing.

With controversy building around the Democratic National Committee's acceptance of questionable donations linked to foreign interests, the president apparently concluded that the topic is too hot to leave entirely to his surrogates. In his comments, the president is expected to call for a bipartisan approach to reforming campaign-finance laws.

The Santa Barbara speech looms as the exception to the rule that has marked virtually all of Clinton's public appearances this fall--he campaigns energetically while carefully steering clear of anything that might spark controversy or endanger his lead in the polls.

This reality has created the type of odd contrast that was evident at his stops in Phoenix and Las Vegas. While reporters peppered his aides with detailed queries about the campaign-financing furor, Clinton's public appearances were studies in good cheer, bristling with references to medical progress, the American dream and strong communities.

"I want an America where the American dream is alive and well for any person responsible enough to work for it, without regard to race or gender or background or where they start out in life," Clinton told his Phoenix audience.

His appearance in Arizona just days before the election was testimony to the favorable current Clinton and his aides believe they are riding and hope to maintain. No Democratic presidential candidate has carried this state since Harry S. Truman in 1948, yet polls show Clinton has at least an even shot at doing that.

At a rally in Las Vegas, Clinton paid homage to advancements in treating AIDS, stroke and spinal injuries. He then spoke of the pressures faced by working parents: "Their most important job is raising their children, but we have to have a strong economy," he said, adding, "There is no more important agenda for America."

As Clinton heads toward the finish line of what presumably will be the final campaign in a political career that began when he was barely out of college, he has begun allowing himself a bit more latitude in needling GOP challenger Bob Dole and other Republicans by name.

In Las Vegas, for instance, he told supporters that Dole, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the local GOP congressman, John Ensign, supported funding cuts in the popular Head Start and student-loan programs. He also warned that the agenda pushed by the GOP-controlled Congress would have "terribly, terribly, terribly" weakened environmental protection.

But the president more commonly devotes his time to an upbeat review of the economy, cheerful citations of social progress and appeals for walking "together" into the future--all in a manner that only the most sour curmudgeon might take issue with.

"Five days before this election, I want you to be upbeat about America, optimistic about your future and determined to make the choice that will guarantee that that vision can be made real," he told the crowd in Las Vegas.

He mixed nostalgic reflections with a bid to refurbish prevailing attitudes toward politicians: "I'm about to end my last campaign. . . . I've been working at this for over 20 years now. Most people I've met from both parties, from all points on the political spectrum, have loved our country, have wanted what was best for it, worked hard and were honest--contrary to the image that is often portrayed."

And striking an above-the-fray approach, he said: "I don't like all this harsh rhetoric and personal attacks and attempts to convince people that your opponent is no good. I don't think there's very much to that."

These remarks were unmistakable reference to Dole's tough recent attacks on Clinton's ethics and character. Meanwhile, the president's campaign released a new television ad designed to blunt those attacks as well as call to mind the doubts Dole expressed earlier this year over whether nicotine is addictive. The ad features Linda Crawford, wife of a tobacco lobbyist who died of lung cancer, praising Clinton for his efforts to curb teenage smoking.

Even as Clinton continued to generally avoid an overtly partisan tone, Vice President Al Gore took a more hard-edged approach as he campaigned in Texas.

Using Halloween imagery at a stop in Galveston, Gore urged his audience to put Democrats back in control of Congress, saying, "No longer should we allow the United States House of Representatives to be a haunted House of Representatives--by Speaker Newt Gingrich."

Linking Dole with Gingrich--a favorite Democratic tactic since early this year--Gore said the pair "are following the siren song of the right wing that has now captured control of the modern Republican Party. . . . Most people in both political parties have long since decided that Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole simply went way too far over to the extreme right-wing edge, and Nov. 5 is a chance to send a message to them: 'Don't ever do that again!' "

Times staff writer Elizabeth Shogren in Galveston contributed to this story.

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