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CAMPAIGN 2000

Democratic Candidates See Pay Dirt With Clinton

Politics: They clamor for the president's presence because of his fund-raising prowess. He's seen as helping to get out the vote among blacks and union members.

September 10, 2000|MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — With his vice president now carrying the Democratic Party's banner and his wife campaigning for her own Senate seat, President Clinton could well be the political equivalent of the Maytag repairman. But to many congressional candidates, he is Mr. Fix-It.

And just how eager is the nation's most powerful prospective retiree to accommodate pleas for help from these candidates? So eager that on Monday, Clinton is flying in to lend a political hand to Rep. James H. Maloney (D-Conn.), an endangered incumbent who two years ago broke ranks with most Democrats and voted in favor of impeachment hearings against the president. (Maloney later voted against the actual impeachment charges.)

Clinton plans to campaign with Maloney at a public event in Danbury, Conn., then headline a fund-raiser on the lawmaker's behalf expected to net $175,000. Later in the day, the president is to travel to New York for more fund-raisers, including one benefiting his wife, Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

It's been almost a month since Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and Clinton shared a public podium. And part of Gore's bounce in the polls has been credited to his push to show, "I'm my own man," as he put it in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. But while Gore has sought to put distance between himself and the scandal-plagued Clinton, Democratic House and Senate candidates clamor for the president's presence.

As a result, his schedule for the coming weeks is filling up with trips designed to aid beleaguered Democratic incumbents and rally the party's rank-and-file in tight races across the country.

"Bill Clinton is still the most sought-after figure in America for campaigning, fund-raising, anything," said Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.), head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "If he were able to make the time available, we could fill every hour of every day for Senate candidates."

In recent months, Clinton has made appearances on behalf of almost 20 House and Senate candidates and helped raise money for many more. Beyond Monday's appearances, the president already is lined up to stump for five more Democratic candidates in the next couple of weeks.

His advisors expect that by the Nov. 7 election, he will have played a direct campaign role in virtually all of the roughly dozen races that House and Senate Democratic leaders have identified as their best shots for picking up GOP-held seats.

More than anything, the candidates who get Clinton's help want the political money that the president draws like a magnet. Although several of Clinton's campaign swings to date have included presidential "message" events and appearances before the party faithful, the bulk of his appearances on behalf of candidates have been at fund-raisers.

"He can raise money like nobody else," said Mark Mellman, a consultant to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But the money, say Democratic strategists, is just the tip of what Clinton brings to hotly contested House and Senate races. Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles-based consultant to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the president continues to exert an almost magical hold over the Democrats' traditional constituencies--African Americans, union members and Jewish people. And in races where turnout will be key, Clinton's appearance with a candidate can have a bracing get-out-the-vote effect among those groups.

Although Gore may want to distance himself from Clinton, the president's mobilizing effect will almost certainly benefit the Democratic ticket generally, said Mellman. That, Mellman added, may help explain why Clinton has accepted invitations from a number of candidates in safe Democratic seats, including that of Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York.

The president's schedule for Monday includes an appearance on behalf of Weiner, who won his seat in 1998 with 66% of the vote. By energizing Jews and African Americans in Weiner's district to turn out for him, Clinton is indirectly ensuring votes for his wife's Senate candidacy as well as for Gore.

Not every Democratic candidate has decided that a Clinton visit would be beneficial. Although the president's impeachment is rarely mentioned within party circles, his troubles have left a more persistent taint in some states and districts than others--or so, at least, campaign strategists believe.

Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) is locked in a tough reelection fight against Republican George Allen, the state's former governor, and a Robb loss would seriously hinder Democratic hopes of winning the Senate. But campaign aides say it remains unclear whether Robb will reach out to Clinton.

"I don't believe we have actually requested the president to come," said Robb campaign spokesman Mo Alleithee. "At this point, we're unsure" whether it would be helpful.

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