CNN/TIME AllPolitics Vote '96

Clinton Captures A Second Term

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 5) -- President Bill Clinton, who talked about "a bridge to the 21st century" and brushed off charges about Whitewater pardons and fund-raising abuses, easily beat Republican rival Bob Dole tonight to capture a second term.

Clinton, 50, put together wins in several battleground states, including Ohio, Florida and New Jersey, to break the 270- electoral vote barrier, according to CNN projections.

Clinton picked up 49 percent of the popular vote, to Dole's 42 percent and Reform Party candidate Ross Perot's 9 percent, according to partial returns.

The president finished a frenetic final campaign swing by returning to Little Rock, Ark., where he voted and awaited the returns. Confident, in his final campaign appearances, Clinton turned his attention to electing a Democratic Congress.

"Your vote is going to decide whether we return Congress to a majority of people who have prepared to shut the government down," he said.

In its final six weeks, the '96 presidential campaign took on a harsher tone, with Dole targeting what he said were Clinton's questionable "public ethics" and saying the president was not a man to be trusted.

But Clinton either ignored Dole's criticism or brushed it aside. In their second debate, Clinton declared: ""No attack ever created a job or educated a child or helped a family make ends meet."

When Republicans challenged him on questionable fund-raising and overseas contributions from Indonesian and South Korean business interests, Clinton flatly said Democrats had "played by the rules" and called for campaign finance reform.

The presidential campaign, which never really ignited the public's imagination, offered Americans a choice between two moderate, career politicians with very different outlooks and experiences in life.

Dole, an active and vigorous 73, was shaped by the Depression and World War II, where he suffered grievous injuries during fighting in Italy. When he accepted the Republican nomination in August, he recalled a simpler, safer, more secure America and said he could be a bridge to better days.

Clinton, the first member of the "baby boom" generation to be elected president, turned that vision around and portrayed himself as a forward-looking leader, unafraid of technological change, global economic competition or the challenges of a racially and culturally diverse society. Clinton asked voters to help him build a bridge to the future.

With no primary challenger save fringe candidate Lyndon La Rouche, Clinton avoided divisive Democratic primaries. He put off declaring himself a candidate for so long that he finally skipped the traditional announcement altogether.

On the stump, Clinton bragged about an improving economy, with 10.7 million new jobs created and lower unemployment, and proposed initiatives to help children learn to read and older youngsters to connect with the Internet.

For Dole, the campaign's early stages were much rougher. He found himself, in late 1995, as the clear GOP front-runner that everyone wanted to knock off. He faced vigorous primary challenges from populist pundit Pat Buchanan, magazine publisher Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr. and former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander. Dole suffered an early setback at Buchanan's hands in New Hampshire before pulling away from his rivals in March.

Once the primaries were over, Dole quit the Senate, to focus full-time on his White House bid.

He staked a big part of his hopes on an ambitious plan for a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut, which he unveiled in early August. At rallies, his supporters waved signs that said simply, "15%!" Dole, a longtime deficit hawk, insisted he could both cut taxes and balance the budget by slowing the growth of government.

Yet public opinion polls found Americans skeptical, and Dole failed to gain much traction from the tax cut offer. Clinton also proposed tax cuts, but smaller, targeted one aimed, for instance, at financing college educations. In the debates, Clinton and Gore both called Dole's plan a risky scheme that would swell the federal deficit and mean higher interest rates.

Dole got a boost, though, from his selection of running mate Jack Kemp, an energetic campaigner who moved easily in some places that Republicans normally don't go, like Harlem.

Perot proved less of a factor this year than in 1992. Excluded from the debates by the Commission On Presidential Debates, Perot struggled for recognition until the final days of the campaign, when he stepped up his attacks on Clinton's ethics and fund-raising.

In polls throughout the fall, Dole hovered in the mid- to high 30s, while Clinton's support remained relatively constant at about 50 percent. And Clinton's approval rating, often the clearest predictor of an incumbent's chances at re-election, stood in mid- to upper 50s's.

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