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Clinton champions Gore as the Democratic standard-bearer

President Bill Clinton
Clinton gives the last address of Monday night's convention session  

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- President Clinton has taken center stage at the Democratic National Convention in a long-awaited speech designed to stake his administration's claim on the nation's economic prosperity and pass the party's leadership role over to nominee-in-waiting Al Gore.

"I am here tonight, above all, to say a heartfelt thank you," Clinton told a roaring convention crowd after a lengthy appluse. "I thank you for supporting the new Democratic agenda that has taken our country to new heights of prosperity, peace and progress."

Part farewell address, part testimonial on Gore's behalf, Clinton's speech was billed as the highlight of Monday night's events. He will leave Los Angeles, turning the Democratic Party's standard-bearer role over to the vice president.

Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention

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White House aides said Clinton was not likely to mention the Republican president nominee -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- by name during his address, but would include a partisan rebuke of Republican charges that the current administration deserves little credit for the nation's unprecedented economic boom.

"Eight years ago, when our party met in New York, it was a far different time for America. Our economy was in trouble, our society was divided, our political system was paralyzed," Clinton said.

Bush in his acceptance speech in Philadelphia, said Clinton had made no constructive use of his considerable talent and personal charm. "They had their chance; they have not led," Bush said of Clinton and Gore.

Clinton was expected to spend equal time outlining how his administration's economic and social policies have had a real impact on the nation, and why Gore -- after nearly eight years as his active understudy -- was best qualified to assume the mantle of the presidency.

"I ran for president to change the future ... "I asked you to embrace new ideas rooted in enduring values: opportunity for all, responsibility from all and a community of all Americans," Clinton said. "You gave me that chance to turn those ideas and values into action, after I made one of the best decisions of my life: asking Al Gore to be my partner."

Clinton was to recite a litany of promises he and Gore made in 1992 and argued how the duo delivered on them, from balancing the budget and halving welfare roles, breaking down global trade barrier, and investing in education, law enforcement and new technology.

White House aides said earlier that the president would include a list of administration priorities that remain stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress, priorities that will be handed off to Gore, his understudy for the last seven-and-half years.

Among those: the so-called patients' bill of rights -- which would bolster the legal rights of individuals in dealings with their health maintenance organizations -- and a new prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients.

Touting Gore

Clinton also planned to trumpet Gore as perhaps the most active and involved vice president in the nation's history. Gore served as a close advisor and policy architect in the White House and wielded significant intellect and influence in the shaping of his administration's economic and social policies, Clinton argued.

"We've worked closely together for eight years now. In the most difficult days of the last years, when we faced the toughest issues -- of war and peace, of taking on powerful special interests -- he was always there," Clinton said in remarks prepared for delivery.

In addition to offering enthusiastic support for Gore's candidacy, aides said the president planned to support first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's contributions to his administration and boost her candidacy for the U.S. Senate from New York.

Clinton is only the third president since Harry Truman to make his farewells to a party after having served two full terms. The others -- Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1988 -- were Republicans.

Clinton studied Reagan's address to the 1988 GOP gathering, where the two-term "Great Communicator" handed the GOP's reins over to then Vice President George Bush, after claiming credit for a strong economy and the resurgence of national pride.

At the sunset of his political career, Reagan also declared that "none of our achievements happened by accident."

A graceful exit from the political spotlight?

Demcoratic Party leaders and the Gore camp were hoping the Clintons will make an equally gracious exit. It remained unclear whether the chief executive would offer another direct "mea culpa" for his role in the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal, which has attached itself -- with the help of the Bush campaign -- to the vice president's own White House bid.

The president knows that "it's his moment to get off the stage and let someone else get on the stage and do the job," said White House chief of staff John Podesta.

The end-of-an-era theme was underscored by a tribute video biography that played just before Clinton's speech, which included a series of unpublished photos from his nearly eight years in office, as well as sound bites of world leaders praising his leadership.

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said Monday that Clinton's address had gone through numerous revisions over the past week. Clinton cancelled a meeting with Hispanic and African-American leaders Monday morning to spend time reworking the draft by himself, and met with aides later in the day to make even more changes.

The Monday night address marks Clinton's fourth to a Democratic nominating convention. He made his first during the 1988 gathering in Atlanta, where he delivered a long and rambling keynote address that received its loudest applause from the restless convention crowd when he uttered the phrase: "In conclusion."

Although regarded by many as a disastrous debut on the national political stage, the speech didn't damage the Arkansas governor's presidential prospects in 1992. That year, Clinton used his convention address to introduce himself to Democrats gathered in New York and the rest of the nation as the "Man from Hope," his birthplace in Arkansas.

While fending off a challenge from Republican nominee Bob Dole in 1996, Clinton asked Democratic conventioneers in Chicago to help him "build a bridge to the 21st Century" a much-repeated term throughout the course of his successful re-election bid that year.

Clinton will join Gore on the campaign trail in Michigan on Tuesday, where he is expected to pass the torch to his vice president in a symbolic public ceremony.


Monday, August 14, 2000

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