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Supporting Actor
Clinton to Stump for Gore — On a Limited Basis

President Clinton, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden of the White House on Oct. 27, is set to campaign for Al Gore in a handful of states. (Ron Edmonds/AP Photo)
By Peter Dizikes
Oct. 28 — President Clinton will finally hit the campaign trail next week on behalf of Vice President Al Gore — but is being steered away from the swing states that are likely to decide this year’s election.
“I’ll do whatever I think is best in consultation with the campaign,” Clinton said this afternoon. “It does help if you can turn out your vote.”
     Many Democrats have urged Gore, who is trailing Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush in the polls, to enlist Clinton to help energize the party’s base supporters.
     But Gore — wary of being overshadowed by the charismatic president, and concerned that the controversial president’s appearances might also trigger an adverse reaction among undecided voters — has tried to limit the extent of Clinton’s involvement.
     “With these undecided voters, Bill Clinton is radioactive,” National Journal political analyst Charles Cook tells ABCNEWS. “They really don’t like him. They may like his policies but they really don’t like him.”
     As a result, the Gore campaign has negotiated to keep Clinton from campaigning in Michigan and Pennsylvania — two battleground states the Clinton-Gore ticket won by comfortable margins in both 1992 and 1996.
     But Clinton does not rule out making an appearance in Michigan, a state considered absolutely vital to Gore’s chances.
     “We haven’t decided every place I’m going yet, and I may still go to Michigan,” the president said at a White House press conference. “If they want me come and the campaign thinks it will be helpful, I’ll go.”

Clinton Downplays Importance
Asked about the campaign today, Clinton downplayed the influence he could have on the race.
     “The most important actors in this drama are Al Gore and Gov. Bush,” said Clinton. “They are the only actors that have some sway.”
     “ There are only two things a president who is not running can do,” Clinton said. “You can tell people what you think the condition of the country is and what the stakes are, and you can try to rally the people that are already with you in the hope of getting a bigger turnout.”
     As he decides how best to use Clinton’s support, Gore finds himself confronted with a difficult balancing act.
     The vice president needs to ensure a large turnout, which historically has benefited Democratic candidates. He also must win over the election’s swing voters: the independents and undecided voters both he and Bush have courted extensively.
     Internal polling by the Gore campaign indicates undecided voters in the battleground states would have a mixed response to presidential appeals for their support. An ABCNEWS poll released Oct. 21 also shows support for Clinton’s policies does not directly benefit Gore.
     Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said they approved of Clinton’s policies, but 63 percent held an unfavorable impression of the president “as a person.”
     And among those who approve of Clinton’s programs while disapproving of him personally, 60 percent said they supported Gore, suggesting the baggage of the impeached president is weighing down his vice president.

Senate Support Needed?
So far, the White House has only confirmed that Clinton will campaign for Gore in Kentucky, California, and New York, where the president’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is leading in her Senate race against Rep. Rick Lazio.
     In the last week, Clinton has spent all or part of four days in New York stumping and raising funds for the first lady, who has a slight edge in the polls.
     But while Clinton has done much of his recent campaigning in New York, the Gore campaign’s insistence that he stay out of Michigan and Pennsylvania could have an impact on the Democrats’ chances of regaining control of the Senate.
     Debbie Stabenow, the party’s Senate candidate in Michigan, has asked Clinton to stump in the state on her behalf, as she tries to unseat the Republican incumbent, Sen. Spencer Abraham.
     In Pennsylvania, the Democratic Senate candidate, Ron Klink, trails GOP incumbent Rick Santorum in the polls and could use a boost as the election draws near.
     Currently the Republicans hold the majority in the Senate by a 54 to 46 margin, but have more incumbents locked in closely contested races, and the Democrats have not ruled out their chances of gaining a majority.

Arkansas Return Possible
Discussions between the Gore campaign and the White House have also involved possible visits by the president to his home state of Arkansas, Louisiana and even Missouri, a toss-up state that is leaning toward Bush.
     But the Gore campaign has made it clear that Clinton should not conduct any network television interviews during the final 10 days of the campaign. He is instead being asked to concentrate on media that will help get out the vote among the core Democratic constituency, like black radio stations and the Spanish-language network Univision.
     Clinton has also recorded a radio advertisement for Democratic House candidate Mike Honda, running for election in Northern California. Clinton has taped get-out-the-vote messages to be autodialed into people’s homes in key congressional races. One call, on behalf of Jon Corzine’s Democratic Senate bid, is already ringing phones across New Jersey.
     But Clinton says it is “not true” that he is frustrated by Gore’s decision to use him in moderation in the biggest race of all. The president noted that Gore campaign chairman William Daley — previously the Commerce Secretary in Clinton’s Cabinet — reminded him in a conversation Thursday of his own comment, in August, that the best way he could help the Gore campaign would be to lay low.
     But sources close to the administration have described the president as eager to campaign for Gore, and according to a senior administration official, Clinton and Daley still conduct frequent phone conversations about the presidential race.
     Friday, Clinton did drop a broad hint about what he believes to be at stake in the presidential election.
     “I think it’s very important that someone be here in this job to restrain the impulses of the right wing of the Republican Congress if they should stay in the majority in either House,” he said.

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On today's Political Points: Who are the most influential voting blocs this election year? Plus: Who is behind a new ad attacking Gore?

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