The Race So Far
Bill Clinton is the first sitting Democratic president to escape a primary challenge since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and as of Super Tuesday, Clinton had a lock on the nomination without even calling himself a candidate.
A skillful and devoted campaigner, Clinton has enjoyed a $20 million war chest to spend this summer as Dole grappled with a $37 million spending cap he was fast-approaching by late May. That gave Clinton, helped by a $25 million labor campaign against Republicans, an easy summer to concentrate advertising in key regions he needed to shore up. Plus, he had Airforce One. Last spring, the president took a highly visible trip to Asia and Europe where he had the world stage at his command. Back home, Clinton made several trips to must-win California, bringing his total trips to the state since taking office to 27.
There and elsewhere, Clinton pledged action on many issues that are traditionally Republican -- teenage crime, truancy, illegal immigration, a balanced federal budget and welfare reform -- all the while portraying GOP initiatives on the same issues as extreme and outside the mainstream. He has encouraged the entertainment industry to provide more programming suitable for children, and in a break with liberal Democrats, committed to sign GOP-backed welfare reform. Many analysts have called Clinton's maneuvering a skillful move to the political center (where most voters are); frustrated Republicans accused him of "co-opting" their issues -- "faking right and running left," as GOP National Chairman Haley Barbour likes to say.
The strategy appears to be working. By late summer after Congress passed a welfare reform bill that Clinton promised to sign, Dole was so desperate to differentiate himself with the president he bet the farm on a dramatic tax-cutting proposal at odds with his longstanding track record of putting deficit reduction before tax reductions.
Clinton's enduring vulnerability centers on his character, but if his luck holds, the issue will stay on the back burner for the duration of the campaign. The nation gasped in late May when the president's former business partners Jim and Susan McDougal were convicted of bank fraud, but Whitewater faded again after the jury in the second Whitewater trial deadlocked and came back with acquittals. Though Jim McDougal is reportedly cooperating with the Whitewater prosecution, details are unlikely to surface until his mid-November sentencing, after the Nov. 5 election.
The GOP's successful San Diego convention gave Dole and his running mate Jack Kemp a much-needed bounce in the polls, and Dole's tax cut plan appeared to helping too. Still, the Clinton-Gore team dismissed the surge as temporary, exuding confidence that their convention would help put the president back in the solid, double-digit lead he's maintained since early this year.