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CAMPAIGN 2000: ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE

'Cheerleader in Chief' Touts Hillary

Election: In New York City, the president lavishes praise on his Senate candidate wife and stirs the Democratic faithful.

November 05, 2000|ROBERT A. ROSENBLATT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The candidate's spouse is hopscotching across this giant city, rushing from one borough to another, stirring up excitement among supporters.

Just another election in the Big Apple? Hardly.

Normally choked intersections empty and traffic moves aside as the power of a presidential motorcade sweeps through the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn to whoop up the Democratic fervor for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the waning days of her campaign for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

"She sent a representative. How about the leader of the free world, the commander in chief?" bellowed an excited Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president, on Saturday afternoon as President Clinton prepared to speak to 500 of the faithful at a restaurant in the Throggs Neck neighborhood. "This is the Democratic machine of the Bronx . . . all the community leaders that will crank up the voter turnout."

Massive Turnout Needed to Win

To win her closely contested Senate race against Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.), Hillary Clinton needs not just the ordinary level of Democratic support in New York City. She must spark a massive turnout of party loyalists to overcome Republican strength in the suburbs and upstate.

And that's precisely why President Clinton was orating Saturday at the Bronx restaurant, at the African Square Plaza in Harlem and at the gymnasium of Long Island University in Brooklyn. He was striving to transfer the loyalty, the love and the votes of hard-core Democrats--especially African Americans and Latinos--to his wife.

At every stop, the president also lavished praise on Vice President Al Gore, who is seeking to succeed him in the White House.

Gore is a "good man who makes good decisions, who will make a good president," Clinton said. "Al Gore has done more for the American people as vice president than anybody in history."

But with polls showing Democrat Gore holding a strong 14-percentage-point lead over his Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, in New York state, the primary reason for Clinton's visit was to drum up support for his wife. A Zogby poll released Saturday showed Mrs. Clinton holding a 6-percentage point lead over Lazio. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

"What I want you to know about Hillary is, I love her," the president told the cheering crowd in Harlem. "I have known her for 30 years. . . . When it comes to children and families and health care and education, she knows more than anyone I can imagine."

The first lady--who spent Saturday campaigning through Westchester County and other vote-rich locales--also has been a key part of the administration's efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland and the Balkans, President Clinton said at each stop.

He recalled that when Hillary decided to run, "I told her New York was a pretty tough sale. . . . They'll put you through your paces. And they have."

But the candidate, he said, has "met every test, and she's worked her heart out."

An All-Out Effort for the First Lady

Although not running for office himself, President Clinton is working as hard as ever on the campaign trail, pleading for contributions and votes for his wife.

He has participated in more than 30 events and fund-raisers for Mrs. Clinton this year, visiting New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Seattle, Little Rock, Ark., and other locales while raising a hefty $8.5 million for her campaign.

In Indianapolis last month, for example, he appealed for dollars for the first lady's campaign, telling a well-heeled audience: "I think she's going to win, but I don't want her to be outspent 3 to 1 in the last 2 1/2 weeks. And obviously, the people who opposed us all along are trying to give it one last shot before they give up and Hillary wins the Senate and I'm not in the White House."

For the first time since 1974, President Clinton's name is not appearing on a ballot. But, as he told a Texas audience: "Now that my party has a new leader and my family has a new candidate, I'm the cheerleader in chief in America. And I'm glad to do it."

And that is how the president has become the heavy artillery of his wife's campaign.

"This is the base vote: African Americans, Latinos, labor union members, working families," said New York state Controller Carl McCall, who has been stumping the state for Hillary Clinton. "They will come out in big numbers."

The Bronx is the most Democratic county in the nation, with the party's nominees regularly winning 80% or more of the vote. It is highly diverse, with large Latino and African American populations.

Roberto Ramirez, chairman of the county Democratic committee, predicted that Hillary Clinton will get as much as 90% of the vote, and that Tuesday's turnout will be of "historic" proportions.

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