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Inside Politics

Clinton pumps base from the stump

Former president's theme: 'John Kerry's got a better plan'


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Sen. John Kerry talked to supporters Monday with Bill Clinton in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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(CNN) -- With eight days remaining before Election Day, Democratic strategists fired the big gun and put the controversial but charismatic Bill Clinton on the stump with presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry.

It was a move that could push undecided voters either way. A poll in July showed 54 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of Clinton but 43 percent hold an unfavorable view of the former president.

Kerry is hoping for a boost from Clinton, whose public role in the campaign has been limited since he underwent quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery September 6. (Post-surgery report)

Clinton campaigned Monday evening in Miami, Florida, after his comeback speech earlier in the day in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He travels to Nevada on Friday and New Mexico on Saturday.

On Sunday, Clinton returns to his home state of Arkansas for a campaign event.

Polls show the race to be close in all four states, but unexpectedly so in Arkansas, which voted for Clinton in both of his runs for the White House but backed Bush in 2000.

Kerry adviser Mike McCurry said the race is "closer than anticipated" there and represents an "opportunity" for the Democrats.

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, offered his perspective on Clinton's appearance.

"They had to roll Clinton out of the hospital room and onto the campaign trail to help Senator Kerry with his core constituencies, who are so weak," Rove said.

He argued the Republicans feel good about their base and made the point that they are actively going after Democratic candidates.

CNN political editor John Mercurio said it could be a risk to put the impeached leader on a platform with a White House candidate who slightly trails in polls among registered voters. (Poll: Race remains close)

"This is not an event designed to appeal to swing voters, independent voters," Mercurio said. "This is designed for your base, for African-American voters, Clinton loyalists, people who supported him through the impeachment saga."

The affection was strong among the tens of thousands of Kerry backers who filled Love Park. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers said a preliminary estimate found the crowd between 80,000 and 100,000.

As confetti flew, many attendees waved flags and held signs that read "8 more days" and "Philly for Kerry."

The newly svelte Clinton worked the crowd with a broad smile as he stooped to shake hands.

At the start of his address he quipped, "If this isn't good for my heart I don't know what is."

Clinton was candid about what he and Kerry hoped his presence would bring to the campaign.

"I know well that no one's presence can change a single vote," he said. "But I hope my reasons can affect a few votes."

Saying he had promised his wife, doctors and himself he wouldn't overdo it, Clinton quickly launched into what he said were differences between Kerry and President Bush, and the state of the country.

He complained of job losses, record bankruptcies, declining middle class incomes and more uninsured Americans.

"John Kerry's got a better plan," Clinton said, lauding the senator's domestic platform, including his vow to repeal the tax cut for people -- such as Clinton himself, he noted -- who make more than $200,000 a year.

"He wants to finally give us a chance to make a contribution to America's economic recovery and to the fight against terrorism," Clinton said. "Most of us want our chance ... and we don't want our children and our grandchildren paying for the cost of our tax cuts."

He also repeatedly cited figures from his own presidency, such as job increases, specific to Pennsylvania.

Clinton praised Kerry's international platform as well, saying the senator would create a larger army, provide better management in Iraq, put greater emphasis on homeland security, double inspection of containers at ports and airports, and do a better job of cracking down on al Qaeda.

"The other side, they're trying to scare the undecided voters about Senator Kerry, and they're trying to scare the decided voters away from the polls -- we know about that, don't we," Clinton said, referring to complaints from some African-Americans that in 2000 they were kept from the polls, particularly in Florida.

"One of Clinton's laws of politics is this: If one candidate's trying to scare you, and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes; you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope," he said.

At the Miami event, which drew a crowd of about 5,000 people, Clinton appeared to show more stamina than he did earlier in the day in Philadelphia. He spoke for more than 20 minutes and then shook many hands in a semicricle around the stage.

"Remember, we won this state the last two times, they just didn't count them the last time," Clinton told the Miami crowd. "We can win it again. Let's go for it three in a row."

Of Bush, Clinton said: "Only a very foolish person goes all the way through life and never change positions on anything in the face of new evidence."


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