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Clinton tests political waters in Atlanta

January 15, 1996
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jill Dougherty

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- In the church where Martin Luther King Jr. once preached, President Bill Clinton did a little preaching of his own.

Speaking to a supportive crowd gathered for the King memorial service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Clinton may have been preaching to the choir.

"We can define ourselves by our hopes and not our fears," Clinton told the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of 1,500. "Most of all, we can understand that we are stronger when we live and work together as a community, not as a swarm of isolated individuals or antagonistic groups. That is still the decision for America today."

Although the King holiday event was touted as a non-political event, speeches were peppered with campaign rhetoric, and not just from candidate Clinton.

Dexter Scott King, the Rev. King's son, was greeted with applause when he said, "President Clinton has appointed more African-Americans and women to high-level, policy-making positions than any president in U.S. history."

The president also tested other campaign themes on the audience.

His pitch for support of his decision to send U.S. troops to Bosnia fell flat, but there was no lack of applause when the president turned to issues closer to home.

"I still believe we need the right kind of affirmative action," said Clinton. "We can end (affirmative action), but we can't until everybody, with a straight face, can say there is no more discrimination on the basis of race."

The president has been walking a fine line between support for federal programs many black voters value and the desire among some other Americans to cut those same programs.

The president's initial wavering on protecting affirmative action programs caused consternation among African-American supporters, but the budget debate has boosted his image as a protector of federal programs.

The Varsity

Clinton turned his attention to lighter matters after the memorial service, making an unscheduled stop for lunch at an Atlanta landmark.

The Varsity, best known for its chili-cheese dogs, hamburgers, onion rings and shakes, played host to the President, Georgia Gov. Zell Miller and Rep. John Lewis, D- Georgia. But the president skipped the fat and settled for a chicken sandwich, fries and a Diet Coke.

Clinton w/ Billy Payne

Following lunch, the President went to the Olympic Stadium, the center of events for the 1996 Summer Games which will be hosted by Atlanta.

Asked what he thought of The Varsity while standing on the Olympic jogging track, President Clinton said "That's why I came to the track ... I'm going to run it off."

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