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Clinton Exhorts Capps' Backers

Santa Barbara: The former president helps the Democratic congresswoman build up her campaign funds while scolding Bush for tax cut and Iraq policy.


Amid cheers and applause, former President Bill Clinton delivered a call to arms Friday to 750 party loyalists gathered at a Santa Barbara estate to raise money and support for a Democratic congresswoman seeking reelection in November.

"I came because this is really important," Clinton said. "What is at stake here is what kind of country we're going to have."

Clinton's appearance at the hilltop home of Democratic supporter Betty J. Stephens helped raise $200,000 for Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), who is being challenged by a wealthy Carpinteria businesswoman who is backed by top Republicans.

The afternoon stop was one of several fund-raising appearances the former president has made on behalf of Democratic candidates during a swing through Southern California.

On Thursday, he stumped for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) at an event in Orange County. And earlier Friday, he appeared at a breakfast for Democratic Gov. Gray Davis at the Beverly Hills home of businessman Ron Burkle.

In Santa Barbara, Clinton held a rapt audience during a 35-minute speech that touched on a range of issues.

He heatedly faulted the Bush administration's fiscal policies for depleting the nation's budget surplus and said that cuts now being proposed fall most heavily on the middle class and the poor.

Upper-income taxpayers, like himself, are the only group to escape economic harm so far, Clinton charged.

"They give me a tax cut and cut loans for kids trying to go to college. There is something wrong with that," Clinton said to cheering applause.

Clinton also cautioned that war with Iraq should not come without the support of international allies and attempts to send inspectors back into the country to search for chemical and biological weapons.

To act offensively would give Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein good reason to use whatever weapons he does have, Clinton said.

"How do we know he won't use this stuff or give it to others who will?" he asked. "That's what you would do if someone was coming to get you."

Clinton called Capps a friend he has supported since she won a special election in 1998 to replace her late husband, Walter.

Capps' daughter, Laura, also worked in the Clinton White House.

Capps, 64, is seeking a third term representing a district that was once a Republican stronghold. New boundaries drawn last year appear to have made the seat safer for the congresswoman, with registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans, 45% to 33%.

The largely coastal district runs from San Luis Obispo in the north to the agricultural fields of Oxnard. Coastal voters tend to back Democrats, and Capps' Santa Barbara hometown is in the heart of the district.

But her campaign is taking no chances. Her opponent, sod farm owner Beth Rogers, 56, has already raised $700,000 and commanded enough attention in Washington to bring House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) out for a fund-raiser last month.

Capps also knows that she needs to make herself known to about 200,000 voters in the Oxnard area who were added to her district. That will take time and money, campaign officials said.

Capps has raised $1.1 million so far, said campaign spokesman Chris Henson. She plans to spend between $1.5 million and $2 million before the Nov. 5 election, he said.

Rogers' campaign manager, Bob Tapella, said Clinton's appearance shows that the race is closer than the Capps campaign will admit.

"If this is, in fact, a safe seat why would they be sending Bill Clinton out here? It shows she is concerned about the race and she has reason to be concerned," Tapella said.

Clinton's verbal skills and political wattage wowed many of those drawn to the event.

"I'm shaking like I just met Paul McCartney," said Tricia Ahern, 51, after shaking Clinton's hand on the receiving line.

Ahern and a friend, Karin Emrich, said they were drawn by the chance to hear the former president in person. But what he had to say wasn't always uplifting, said Ahern, a Ventura banker.

"It was heart-wrenching," she said. "To hear him recount how much things have changed in two years. I feel we are in big trouble in this country right now."

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