Clinton's Advantage: Voters Feel He Cares

Sen. John McCain, who could very well end up as Bob Dole's running mate, has really gotten down to the bottom of Candidate Dole's problems. Senator McCain told reporters at a Monitor breakfast how much Dole "cared" for people and that his record as a legislator showed this humanitarianism - but that the public simply was not aware of this warm side of the Kansan.

The "caring" issue is, indeed, of vital importance in this presidential race. An ABC-Washington Post poll found 77 percent would choose a president who understands their problems over one with "the highest personal character."

Whitewater has raised its head again. But President Clinton has not too much to worry about as long as the American people are voting for "caring" over "character" and believe he's the candidate who truly cares for them.

In the book "Primary Colors," the southern governor who is running for election (and reminding many readers of Governor Clinton back in 1992) is portrayed as an opportunist, a fudger of the facts, and a man who is able to persuade almost anyone he meets with his double handshake and warm personality. Governor Stanton, as that character is called, is also a womanizer of record-breaking proportions.

Nonetheless the top aides of Stanton stick with him because they believe that no matter how much of a rogue he is the governor genuinely cares about people and their problems. They also like his brilliance and his years of preparation for becoming president. But, more than anything else, Stanton's staff and advisers believe that their candidate truly cares for the disadvantaged, the poor, the jobless - for those who have never had much of a chance to make it.

Dole may very well care for people as much as Clinton does - or even more. He, too, comes from modest circumstances where he had plenty of opportunity to see how hard it is for those who are trying to make a living on the farm or in farm-related communities. And his wounds and war-related disability have undoubtedly made him particularly sympathetic to the problems of the disadvantaged of this world.

Also, those who know him well will tell you what a "great guy" Bob Dole is - what a warm personality he has and how he is always there for a friend in need.

But while this is the Dole who is loved back in his hometown of Russell, Kan., it isn't the man the public has gotten to know over the years.

Dole's public persona has been a most impersonal one: The fellow he has put on view on TV, until recently, is that of a man of few words who at times can be blunt or even cutting.

McCain said that he thought "character" would still become the big issue in this election and that Dole could ride this issue to victory. Wisconsin's GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson - another running-mate possibility - talked to this same reporters' group a few days later and made the same prediction.

The Little Rock fraud and conspiracy trial, where two of the president's former associates and another old friend were found guilty, is indeed stirring up public interest in complex transactions and events (known as Whitewater) that have the potential of blackening the names of both Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. The president was only a witness on behalf of those who were found guilty. But the voters at the very least could conclude that Clinton used to hang out with a bad crowd.

Now a reinvigorated independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, will look hard at Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the White House travel-office firings. And a second trial is scheduled to start soon in Little Rock concerning illegal contributions to then-Governor Clinton's campaign for the state house.

We remember 1992 and how President Bush thought he could beat Clinton on the character issue. But voters seemed to feel that the Republican president's failure in being attentive to their domestic problems was more important than Clinton's character problems. So Bush didn't get enough of their votes to win. Could this happen again in the upcoming election?

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