Clinton Juggernaut Rolls Toward Finish
In 43-city blitz, final thrust will be on turnout
COLUMBUS, OHIO — The final days of President Clinton's reelection campaign are unfolding like a carefully choreographed dance.
Visit Ohio and Missouri, traditional battleground states where Mr. Clinton enjoys a comfortable lead, and urge voters to turn out. Visit Minnesota and Illinois, where the president is also in excellent shape, and boost the hotly contested Senate races of Paul Wellstone, the incumbent from Minnesota, and Dick Durbin, who's vying for Illinois's open seat.
Later this week, stop in at long-shot states like Arizona and Texas, in an effort to put Clinton's electoral total well over the 270 needed for victory - and build a mandate for a second term.
Just a few weeks ago, the campaign had vowed it would spend the final days of the campaign within a 750-mile radius of Chicago - an area encompassing what is often a crucial swing region in presidential races. But those states are, for the most part, solidly in the Clinton column, and he can afford to go further afield.
In all, Clinton, Vice President Gore, and their wives will visit more than 43 cities in more than 24 states in the final eight days of Election '96.
"The White House does not want to appear complacent," says presidential spokesman Mike McCurry.
Still, while Clinton addresses enthusiastic (and carefully screened) crowds with the easy effervescence of a consummate politician, his campaign aides are hovering like the cast of a new version of "Waiting to Exhale." They see the daily tracking polls. They know the numbers are steady, and very good. But they're still holding their breath.
When asked for the campaign's latest estimate of solid electoral votes and those it has a shot at getting, deputy campaign manager Ann Lewis would only grin, then suggest, "Add them up yourself." When asked what the president's message would be on this final campaign swing, the answer could be boiled down to one word: turnout.
"The best way to get people's vote is to ask for it," she said.
If the Dole campaign is anxious that Republican voters will get discouraged and stay home, Democrats are equally worried their supporters will also fail to vote - out of complacency. At the start of this week's latest tour, Clinton made a pitch to a core constituency - women - with his announcement about measures to fight breast cancer. Democrats say they lost control of Congress in 1994 when women voters turned out in lower-than-usual numbers.
SINCE then, Clinton has followed up with a theme du jour as he hopscotches around the country at breakneck speed. In an appearance at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., with Mr. Gore's parents beaming proudly in the front row, Clinton highlighted the transition from welfare to work and offered tax breaks to businesses that hire people off the welfare rolls.
Clinton's theme for Oct. 28, the budget, was timed to coincide with the release of new deficit figures that made Republican teeth gnash. GOP leaders tried to take credit for the news - that the 1996 deficit had dropped to $107 billion, the lowest level since 1981 - and Democrats countered with reminders that their signature deficit reduction plan of 1993 was passed without one Republican vote.
The next day was education day as the president addressed crowds here in Columbus, Ohio, and later in Philadelphia. And as he has done so often in this campaign, he came out with another of his small proposals designed to signal to voters that he shares their concerns. Clinton called on states and communities to issue "report cards" on public schools and put them on the Internet for all to see.
On Oct.31, on a visit to Phoenix, Ariz., the president will highlight keeping families safe and the following day, building community.
Ms. Lewis says the week's theme-a-day plan is designed to lay out the president's agenda for a second term, though it has also had the feel of a lawyer making closing arguments at the end of a long trial.
Clinton has stayed relentlessly "on message" and above the fray, never mentioning his opponent, Bob Dole. He has also avoided explicitly making the case for a Democratic sweep on Tuesday that would return his party to control of Congress.
Most polls show that Americans prefer divided government, and the Republicans are now airing ads in all 50 states warning against giving Clinton a "blank check" with a restored Democratic majority.
But White House political director Doug Sosnik isn't worried. "There's no evidence ever in history that voters do anything but look at their choices on the ballot between two people," he says. "It's not like they look at the map and try to construct a balance or a strategic plan."
As Clinton runs down the clock, his trip has not been completely conflict-free. Bands of protesters have shouted at each rally from their distant roped off areas, small reminders of the scandals and flaps that would carry over into a second Clinton term in the White House.
But his final rallies have, for the most part, been well-orchestrated love-fests.
Leaving the Target Center in Minneapolis, Barbara Kelly says she's most excited about Clinton's plan to help all Americans attend at least two years of college. "My two sons didn't get to go to college, because we couldn't afford it," says the suburban postal worker. "But now there's hope for my two daughters."