Clinton takes last turn at political centerstage
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - President Clinton takes a last, lingering turn at the center of the American political stage Monday as he gives a farewell speech to the Democratic convention and then makes way for his understudy, Vice President Al Gore.
On the opening day of the convention which will formally choose the vice president as the party's presidential nominee, Clinton will meet some of the party's core constituencies -- blacks, Hispanics and unions -- to thank them for his two terms in office and rally them behind Gore's cause.
In the day's climax he will give an address to the convention to highlight the successes of his administration, which ends in five months, and to argue that Gore is the best candidate to keep the record U.S. economic boom rolling on.
On Sunday Clinton said Gore could overcome the persistent lead that his Republican opponent Texas Gov. George W. Bush holds in opinion polls but said it would take hard work to puncture the electorate's complacency in a prosperous era.
"We can turn around these polls, but it's not the work of a day. It's going to take every day between now and November," Clinton told a brunch honoring his Cabinet, one in a series of preconvention tributes to his administration.
"You've got to go out of this convention committed to telling people this is a big election, there are big differences, in spite of all the good that's been done in the last eight years, you haven't seen anything yet," he said.
Two opinion polls released Sunday showed Gore only a few percentage points behind Bush, a healthy recovery for the vice president, who has lagged the Texas governor by double digits for weeks.
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that in a four-way race, Bush had 44 percent and Gore 41 percent. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader had 5 percent and the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan 2 percent. A Fox TV poll put Bush ahead of Gore, 44 percent to 39 percent, with Nader at 6 and Buchanan at 1.
Clinton's task Monday is to take his star turn while helping make the case that Gore is ready to play the leading role after 7-1/2 years as a devoted understudy.
Aides said he was drafting a speech highlighting the specific policy differences between the parties, a tactic that the Democrats see as their best bet to fend of the Republican drive to recover the White House.
"This isn't going to be like a Republican convention speech: trust us, we're compassionate," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said sarcastically.
In the speech, to be broadcast at about 10:30 p.m. PDT , Clinton was not expected to make reference to the Monica Lewinsky sex and perjury scandal that led to his impeachment. Nor was he expected to directly attack Bush.
In a whirlwind of events that will run from morning until long past midnight, Clinton will try to rally the faithful behind Gore while basking in his last moments at the center of the political stage.
Clinton's schedule includes meetings with the black and Hispanic caucuses, a speech to the American Federation of Teachers, parties with big-money donors and Hollywood stars, as well as a midnight tribute to the White House staff.
The hardest thing for Clinton may be to relinquish the spotlight that has been trained on him since his presidency began in 1993.
"How quickly it all passed and what an absolute joy it was," Clinton said during a star-studded tribute to him Saturday night. "For me this was not only the greatest honor of my life but every day, even the bad days, were good days."
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