WORLD

IN THE CENTRE LANE

CLINTON AND GORE COURT MIDDLE CLASS SUBURBAN AMERICA AS MAVERICK ROSS PEROT DROPS OUT

HILARY MACKENZIE July 27 1992
WORLD

IN THE CENTRE LANE

CLINTON AND GORE COURT MIDDLE CLASS SUBURBAN AMERICA AS MAVERICK ROSS PEROT DROPS OUT

HILARY MACKENZIE July 27 1992

IN THE CENTRE LANE

WORLD

CLINTON AND GORE COURT MIDDLE CLASS SUBURBAN AMERICA AS MAVERICK ROSS PEROT DROPS OUT

Under the benign gaze of the Statue of Liberty, Senator Edward Kennedy hosted a boat tour of New York City’s harbor last week and regaled 119 fellow Democrats from his home state of Massachusetts with the tale of his great-grandfather’s arrival from Ireland in 1848. Back then, said the man who has long been his party’s standard-bearer on liberal policies, the United States welcomed tired, poor, huddled masses to its shores with the promise of a brighter future. But Kennedy complained that, now, America is in decline, with ghettos of misery blighting the land. Yet on the eve of the convention that would nominate Arkansas Gov. William Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president, Kennedy pragmatically endorsed a more moderate brand of leadership for his party—and the country. “With Bill Clinton as president,” he told the delegates aboard the boat, “we can re-create hope and unity.”

Shut out of the White House in the past three elections, the Democrats served notice last week that they are trying to chart a new, centrist course in this year’s campaign. And even as Clinton, 45, and his running mate, Tennessee Senator Albert Gore, 44, put the finishing touches on their convention acceptance speeches, the urgent necessity of broadening their constituency beyond the party’s traditional liberal base was heightened by a startling development in Dallas: billionaire Texan Ross Perot announced that he was withdrawing from the presidential race that he never quite brought himself to formally enter. Concluding that he “could not win in November,” the maverick independent, who spent $12 million on his unofficial campaign and recruited millions of supporters nationwide with his outspoken condemnation of Establishment politics, turned what had been expected to be a three-man battle into a traditional two-

party contest. With Perot’s abandoned backers now deciding where to direct their support, both the Democrats and the Republicans quickly began to woo them.

While many analysts pointed out that the bulk of Perot’s followers were disgruntled Republicans, they did not rule out the possibility that the Democrats, invigorated and united by Clinton’s convention calls for economic renewal and a “new covenant,” could eventually

attract a significant number of them to their camp. In his acceptance speech, Clinton courted middle-class suburban America by stating that his party planned to forge an alliance between business and government in an effort to generate new wealth. “The choice we offer is not conservative or liberal, Democratic or Republican,” Clinton told the convention. “It is different, it is new and it will work.”

For four days in Manhattan’s Madison

Square Garden, Democratie luminaries, including not only Kennedy but also activist Jesse Jackson and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, rallied to Clinton’s call. They repeatedly stressed the need for change, which had been a key theme in Perot’s unofficial bid for the presidency. And on the convention floor, delegates quickly pointed out that the move to the centre had, as Perot himself noted in his withdrawal statement, “revitalized” the Democrats. Leonard Zakim, a 38-year-old delegate from Boston, argued that Clinton’s plan for

economic reform, which includes tax increases on the wealthiest Americans to finance a rebuilding of the country’s infrastructure and to stimulate entrepreneurship, was key to winning the election. “If you don’t get the economy working, you don’t have much left for a social agenda,” said Zakim. “If there aren’t jobs, there’s more desolation, more scapegoating, more bigotry.”

Opinion polls taken right after the convention, one of which put Clinton 23 points ahead of President George Bush, appeared to show

the wisdom of that strategy. Suddenly confident of victory in the Nov. 3 election, many Democrats credited the firebrand Texan with undermining Bush’s credibility. Said 42-yearold delegate Joyce Hopson, a congressional aide from Tennessee: “Perot has got people to ask questions and to say that we need change.” But Bush fought back. “I have a message for anyone who supported Ross Perot and anyone who identifies with that frustration that brought them together,” the President said at the end of a two-day fishing trip in Jackson Hole, Wyo. “I hear you—you’ve come through loud and clear.” And publicly, at least, the Republicans seemed relieved at Perot’s decision not to run. They also signalled that the Bush camp is likely to resurrect its successful 1988 campaign tactic of portraying the Democrats as “tax-and-spend liberals,” despite Clinton’s pro-business stance. “You have a very liberal Democratic ticket,” said Charles Black, a senior Bush adviser. “It may take us a while to communicate that to everybody. But frankly, it puts us back in the kind of race that we’re good at.”

Many of Perot’s devotees clearly remained bewildered by the unexpected turn of events. Jan Jansen, the 62-year-old co-ordinator of the Perot campaign in Georgia’s Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta, said that although he supported Bush in 1988, he is now undecided about who to vote for because he has little confidence that either of the mainstream parties can solve the country’s problems. Many others were just angry. Matthew Liffiander, who chaired Perot’s campaign in New York state, said that the Texan “should be ashamed.” Liffiander accused Perot of “breaking the hearts of some of the best people in America,” and announced that he would support Clinton.

The message of change that emerged from the Democratic convention last week resonated with at least some Perot supporters. “They’re young people and they should be energetic,” said Tye Sanders, a 66-year-old retired control room operator for the Georgia Power Co., of the Clinton-Gore ticket. “If they will really try to straighten this country out, then I think I’d prefer them to Bush.” Added Sanders, who gathered petitions in Cobb Coung ty to get Perot on the state’s ballot: “The last § 12 years haven’t shown me a thing—except I that special interests have gotten filthy rich.” s Elated by their convention triumph, Clinton S and Gore immediately hit the campaign trail. I Downplaying the polls which showed that Clin“ ton enjoyed a 2-to-l lead over Bush, the two candidates began a six-day swing through nine Eastern and Midwestern states. “This is our chance to change America,” Clinton said before boarding a campaign bus in New York. “Let’s take it.” But with the Republicans vowing a bruising counteroffensive as they prepare for their own convention beginning on Aug. 17 in Houston, the battle for the White House promised bitter months ahead.

HILARY MACKENZIE in New York City with MARY L. LEE in Atlanta

HILARY MACKENZIE

MARY L. LEE