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Clinton Focuses on Boosting Senate Hopefuls

Democrats: President continues hectic schedule in Eastern swing.

November 04, 1996|JONATHAN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNION TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Two days away "from the end of the last campaign I will ever run," President Clinton pressed relentlessly through the East on Sunday with hectic visits ranging the length of the nation from Florida to Maine.

With his aides still confident of victory, Clinton's schedule has been dictated largely by the needs of his party's Senate candidates. The appearance here, before thousands of supporters who filled several city blocks, was in part an attempt to bolster Rep. Robert G. Torricelli, the Democrat who is seeking to win the seat of Democratic Sen. Bill Bradley, who is retiring.

From there it was on to Springfield, Mass., where Democratic Sen. John Kerry is locked in a tight race with the state's Republican governor, William F. Weld Jr. Then the president went to Maine and New Hampshire, where party strategists hope that a strong showing by Clinton could help Democrats pick up two Senate seats now held by Republicans.

As he has throughout the last week, Clinton appealed to Democrats to go to the polls.

"Are you ready for a victory on Tuesday?" he asked the enthusiastic crowd in northern New Jersey. "Are you ready to work until Tuesday for the victory?"

"We need you, New Jersey. Be there!"

Clinton himself has planned today's final travel itinerary, aides say, choosing stops in Iowa and South Dakota in hopes of helping to keep Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and unseat Sen. Larry Pressler (R-S.D.).

Clinton has, however, fit in plenty of campaigning on his own behalf. His grueling campaign day began in Florida, a usually Republican state where polls show him in a dead heat with Republican challenger Bob Dole. He attended services at a red-brick church in downtown Tampa, where he talked to the largely black congregation about the importance of "common ground" and alluded to a recent riot in nearby St. Petersburg that began with a racial incident.

"When we are divided we defeat ourselves," Clinton told parishioners before putting his own spin on a biblical reference from St. Matthew that Abraham Lincoln had used a century ago: "A city and a house divided against itself cannot stand--not Tampa, not St. Petersburg, not Washington, D.C., not the United States of America."

Throughout the day, Clinton stuck determinedly to his strategy of avoiding controversy, steering clear of the Democratic Party finance issues that have angered Republicans and preoccupied the media in recent days. At the same time, he took credit for an extraordinary catalog of social achievements, from declining welfare rolls and diminishing crime to rising income levels and millions of new jobs, as he has done all week in a dizzying blur of airport tarmacs, public squares and college campuses.

Vice President Al Gore took on a more controversial subject, speaking out in favor of affirmative action during an appearance at a mostly black church in Detroit.

Gore used the biblical story of Daniel in the lions' den to illustrate his point. God sealed the lions' mouths so they could not eat Daniel, Gore reminded his listeners. This year, the mouths of those who wanted to make affirmative action the main issue of the 1996 campaign had been shut.

"Their mouths have been sealed by the shame they have felt inside because they know the injustice still remains in this country and still must be confronted," Gore said in his best gravelly preacher voice. The congregation of a couple thousand, which was already on its feet, cheered.

"It is abundantly obvious that there is a struggle underway," Gore said. "You can see it in affirmative action. The president says 'mend it, don't end it.' His opponent says 'end it, don't mend it.' They attack it. We defend it. They see a country which they claim no longer has the obstacles of prejudice and injustice and hatred. We see a country that has made progress but still places barriers in the pathway of these young children, simply because they are African American."

Bearing down on the finale of his last campaign, Clinton drew on seemingly limitless reserves of energy. His Bangor, Maine, appearance, for instance, was scheduled to begin after midnight. Afterward, Clinton planned to fly to Manchester, N.H., for a few hours of rest, with a scheduled arrival of 3:30 a.m.; some of his weary staffers planned to skip the Maine visit altogether.

Meanwhile, despite their attempts to avoid signs of overconfidence, Democratic aides began discussing the possible shape of Clinton's second-term Cabinet, suggesting that several Cabinet members, perhaps as many as six, may step down shortly after the election.

"It's safe to say there will be changes," said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, when asked about those reports.

Throughout the day, Clinton implored, exhorted and joked with voters Sunday in a serious bid to make sure they cast their ballots: "Even the president is a hired hand trying to get a contract renewed," he told his Tampa church audience, prompting laughter. "It's a humbling thing."

In his most recent campaign appearances, Clinton has been trying to appeal to "the heart" of supporters and win over votes with positive, impressionistic imagery of America, and he continued down that path Sunday.

"We have a decision to make that goes way beyond the vote on Tuesday," he said in Tampa, referring to his broad call for common ground and a rejection of partisan politics. "And frankly it goes way beyond Democrats and Republicans, way beyond even the choice for president.

"It goes far into the future and deep into the human heart."

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

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