Even Supporters Give Clinton Only One Cheer

A NUMBER of Democrats are saying they are ready to count President Clinton out. What amounts to a ``no-confidence'' vote is being registered by Democrats who expect to run for office in 1996. They see Mr. Clinton leading them down the path to defeat. They want someone else.

Since the election political reporters have been tapping into this vein of unrest. Johnny Apple of the New York Times has concluded from his conversations with leading Democrats all around the United States that there is a ``dump Clinton'' move afoot.

Peter Boyer writes in The New Yorker that Al Gore might replace Clinton on the ticket. A lot of liberals dissatisfied with what they see as a Clinton who pursues a zigzag ideological course would doubtless love to see Gore take over. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is another potential Clinton challenger: Some three months before the election he told reporters at a Monitor breakfast that he was going to run for president in 1996.

Mr. Jackson, of course, was expressing the feeling among blacks that Clinton had let them down. They had loved him for a while but had come to believe that here was a president who promised much and delivered little.

Jackson did well in the primaries in 1988. He picked up a lot of delegates and gave Michael Dukakis a run for his money. He's formidable on the stump. Clinton should not take his likely challenge lightly.

So could we be revisiting the political situation in 1980, when President Carter was bedeviled by a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy? The Northern liberals who had long been the keepers of the Democratic political and social structure in Washington had never accepted Mr. Carter. Many felt uncomfortable with a man who talked so much about being a born-again Christian. But it was more than that: Carter was viewed by many as a hick who had no business laying claim to the presidency.

But Carter was no Clinton. Unlike Clinton, he retained a lot of loyalty and affection from Democrats outside the Washington beltway. I remember talking with Jack Watson, Carter's liaison with the governors and other Democratic leaders right after Kennedy announced his intention to seek the presidency.

Mr. Watson reported that leading Democrats in every state were rallying behind Carter. And he was right.

But Clinton at this point doesn't have that depth of loyalty anywhere. His support has always run thin. His 43 percent of the vote was small enough. But among that 43 percent many were giving him no more than one cheer. He would be a much easier man to beat in a party primary than was Carter.

But Gore? This is a vice president who has gone lockstep with his president from the moment he accepted the nomination. He and the president are close friends - or so it seems. And so are their families. Gore would look like an ingrate if he turned his back on Clinton now and tried to unseat him.

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