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latimes.com: Gore turns down offer by Clinton to visit critical states

latimes.com WASHINGTON (Los Angeles Times) -- As President Clinton arrives in California today for a two-day campaign swing, Al Gore's advisors have rejected White House proposals for the president to appear in other key states this weekend, sources say.

The decision, reached Wednesday morning, underscores Gore's continued anxiety about associating too closely with Clinton--even as the vice president faces increasing demands from many Democrats to intensify his focus on the administration's economic record as Tuesday's election nears. Unless it is reversed, the Gore camp's decision will limit Clinton's campaigning to only one state truly considered a tossup: his home state of Arkansas, where the president will appear Sunday.

Sources say Gore aides concluded that, while Clinton could energize the Democratic base, he would enrage an equal number of Republicans and possibly alienate swing voters as well in states that remain up for grabs. But the decision to limit the president's itinerary has drawn some grumbling from other Democratic candidates and officials. They worry about signs that the party's rank and file are less engaged in the election than Republicans and wonder if Gore may be basing the decision less on political strategy than his own complex feelings about his boss.

"Are [Gore and his advisors] right to do this? No," said one prominent Democratic consultant working with several Democratic candidates who have requested appearances from Clinton. "They are right not to have joint appearances, and they are right not to make a Clinton tour the focus of the end of the campaign. It shouldn't be. But are there places [in battleground states] where Clinton can go and help local candidates? You bet there are."

Responding to invitations from local candidates in Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania, the White House had asked the Gore campaign for permission to let Clinton attend big-city rallies in one or more of these states Sunday. But in the decision reached Wednesday, the Gore advisors rejected the request. A potential Clinton trip to Louisiana has also been scrapped, sources say.

Democratic consultant James Carville, chief strategist in Clinton's 1992 campaign, defended Gore's move. "It makes sense, because if he appears with Gore, it just sucks all the air out of everything; it's all people want to talk about. . . . Gore is in a tight, tight, tight race, and he's got to make his case himself."

Two sources close to Clinton say he hasn't expressed much concern over the Gore camp's decision on his travel. But the sources said the president has been frustrated over Gore's failure to more aggressively rebut Republican George W. Bush's repeated charge that, given the strong economy, the administration has squandered opportunities to tackle various domestic problems.

The Gore camp's decision about how to deploy Clinton came amid several new national polls that raise warning signs about the degree of crossover support among Democrats for Bush. New surveys by the Gallup Organization Inc., independent pollster John Zogby and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press all showed Bush drawing between 9% and 14% of Democrats, while Gore garnered just 4% to 9% of Republicans.

The polls also raise questions about the level of enthusiasm among partisan Democrats for Gore. The Pew study, released Wednesday, found that only 55% of Gore supporters said they strongly support him, compared with 64% of Bush supporters who feel that way about their man. And it found anxiety about the outcome spreading among Democrats: 25% of Democrats now think Bush will win, double the percentage of Republicans who think Gore will prevail. Independents, by a 12-percentage-point margin, tab Bush as the likely winner.

The campaigns consider these numbers important because voters undecided this late in a campaign often are inclined to back the candidate who appears most likely to win.

Poll 'unchnaged or positive' for Bush

Overall, the Pew Research Center poll found Bush leading, 47% to 43%, among likely voters. Tracking polls from Zogby and Gallup released Wednesday gave Bush 3- and 5-point leads, respectively.

"Every indication in our poll is either unchanged or positive in Bush's direction," said Andy Kohut, the Pew Research Center's director.

"Over three October surveys, he's steadily increased the percentage of people who say he is likable, honest and able to get things done; the qualifications gap between him and Gore is also much diminished. There is nothing here that would lead me to say that there are signs of a nascent Gore movement; it is all pushing toward Bush," Kohut said.

Democratic strategists remain encouraged by Gore's numbers in the crucial battleground states, particularly Michigan, Florida and Pennsylvania, where most polls show the two men running neck and neck. Still, it's a measure of Gore's tenuous position that he's been compelled to schedule campaign stops late this week in several states Democrats thought they would have sewn up by now, such as Illinois, Iowa, West Virginia and, most strikingly, his home state of Tennessee.

In California today and Friday, Clinton will focus on energizing core Democrats--and loosening wallets for Democratic candidates. The president will headline a get-out-the-vote rally this afternoon at the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza Mall in South-Central Los Angeles and appear at four fund-raisers for Democratic congressional candidates and the state party. Friday, he headlines rallies in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

On Saturday and Monday, Clinton is scheduled to appear in New York state, where his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has seen her lead in the Senate race slip in recent days. On Sunday, Clinton will campaign in Arkansas.

Gore's decision to limit Clinton's travels follows a long-standing pattern. In the wake of Clinton's impeachment stemming from his affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, Gore has been extremely sensitive about associating with Clinton throughout the campaign; he never mentioned the president's name in his three debates with Bush. Gore aides were also irritated this week by the release of an Esquire interview in which Clinton said Republicans owe the nation an apology for impeaching him.

Polls all year have shown enormous public ambivalence about Clinton, with solid majorities approving of his job performance and equal numbers disapproving of him personally. Recent polling by The Times in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida found that at least three-fifths of likely voters in each state liked Clinton's policies, but as many or more disliked him personally.

Gore and his aides have focused largely on the potential for backlash among voters who have negative personal views about the president. But The Times Poll found that Gore was running better among voters who liked Clinton's policies than Bush was among voters who disliked Clinton personally. Those numbers support the view of Democratic critics who complain that Gore's reluctance to associate with Clinton has led him to dangerously mute discussion of the administration's record on the economy, crime and other issues.

"The Republicans have been working pretty hard to make sure that Gore gets all the negatives of the Clinton presidency, and nobody is doing very much to help Gore get the positives of the Clinton presidency," said one Democrat close to the campaign. "Gore won't talk about the past eight years because of a reluctance to mention the C-word [Clinton]. And it takes some important arrows out of his quiver."

Clinton's presence 'diminishes Gore'

Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategist, said the Gore camp appeared to be trying to "minimize the damage" from Clinton by barring him from the most closely contested states.

"Arkansas he might do some damage to us," Rove said. But otherwise, Rove said, Clinton's "presence on the stage just diminishes Gore."

Gore seemed to foreshadow the decision to bench Clinton in his appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on Tuesday.

Asked by Leno whether he would campaign with Clinton, Gore joked that he planned to appear with Martin Sheen, who plays the president on the hit television show "The West Wing."

"I appreciate [Clinton's] help getting out the vote and doing a few things," Gore said. "But we're not going to campaign together because I am running on my own."

 



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Thursday, November 2, 2000


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