Despite 2 Big Victories, Clinton Can't Expect Rivals to Ease Up : Campaign: Tsongas and Brown will fight on--focusing relentlessly on vulnerable areas of character and trust.


On the face of things, Bill Clinton might have hoped his twin victories Tuesday in the industrial Midwest, coming on top of last week's sweep of Southern primaries, would be enough to drive his foes out of the race and end the contest for the 1992 Democratic nomination.

But for the Arkansas governor, as he and his aides fully realize, things are not going to work out that way.

Beaten but unbowed, Paul E. Tsongas and Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. will fight on--at least through the New York primary three weeks away, and most likely longer than that. And by focusing relentlessly on Clinton's vulnerability on issues of character and trust, they could gradually erode his now-impressive base of support.

Even though the odds are stacked hugely against them, two forces continue to drive Tsongas and Brown. One is the nature of the nominating process itself, which creates inherent pitfalls for any front-runner, particularly in New York, which like Wisconsin will hold its primary April 7.

The second is the special vulnerability of this front-runner, who even as he struggles against his rivals, must contend with the doubts and suspicions stirred by allegations about his past.

Brown's advisers in particular expect him to aggressively fight Clinton on his record in Little Rock and on what they see as the contradiction between Clinton's campaign promises and his performance during his more than 10-year tenure there.

The assault is likely to be rough. Brown, as he demonstrated in last Sunday's televised debate when he charged Clinton with funneling thousands of dollars in state business to his wife, Hillary's, law firm, is no respecter of traditional political courtesies.

"He's all pumped up," said Brown adviser Michael Ford of his candidate's reaction to the furor trigged by the debate and by his second-place finish in Michigan.

Arriving in Madison, Wis., to establish a bridgehead for the April 7 primary, Brown sought to define his insurgent candidacy in terms that would match his appeal to that Midwest state's liberal tradition.

"There is a line between those who are the governing elite and those who have never been able to touch that level of power," he said. "And it's those people, the majority, we the people, that's the group that I want to represent. And I am going to do that in Wisconsin, and Connecticut and New York and all across this country."

Tsongas will operate with more restraint and with more concern for convention. In defeat he was magnanimous to Clinton Tuesday night. "The fact is he (Clinton) went into two large states and did well. When someone does something well, you have to stand back and acknowledge it and give him credit and I do that tonight."

He even sounded a conciliatory note, seeming to join national Democratic Chairman Ronald H. Brown in warning against the dangers of attack politics.

"I think the Demos have to understand that to the extent these things continue you simply play into the hands of George Bush," he said, referring to assaults by the Democratic candidates on each other. "Ultimately, we are going to have a wounded President because of the economy, and that is where the Democrats have to make their hay."

But for all his subdued manner and personal civility, Tsongas--as he has shown during his long underrated candidacy--has a will hard as titanium and a deep-rooted commitment to steering his party back to the middle road that he believes leads to the White House.

Even after his two shellackings in Michigan and Illinois, he showed no sign of departing from that course.

"The task that lies before us, as it did a year ago, is to redefine the Democratic Party," he said on his arrival in Hartford, Conn., which holds its primary next week. Referring to his party's string of defeats in presidential campaigns, he said: "The Democrats have to understand, those who say that losing builds character--we have got enough character. We should start winning for a change."

But before his advice will be taken as seriously as he would like, Tsongas himself needs to win again, and Connecticut, in his home region of New England, is the place where he needs to start. "Clearly, Connecticut becomes a state that Tsongas has to win to remain a viable candidate," said state party Chairman Edward Marcus, who is neutral.

A few short weeks ago, Marcus said, polls showed Tsongas with a big lead in Connecticut. But after Tsongas' last two weeks of defeat, Marcus said his "gut feeling" was that the race had become very close.

To win votes in Connecticut and in the ensuing contests, Tsongas is expected to base his main thrust on his differences with Clinton over economic policy, though his aides say he will broaden his message to heighten its voter appeal. Said senior adviser Ted Van Dyk: "He's going to talk not just about achieving economic strength but also about what the benefits of economic strength are--be able to buy a home, sending your kids to college, medical care you can afford."

Van Dyk said Tsongas will try to return to the campaign high road that carried him to victory in New Hampshire last month, leaving most of the negative assaults on Clinton to Brown, though he will also use his surrogates and commercials to snipe away at the front-runner.

The critical challenge for Clinton will come in New York--which with its 244 delegates is second only to California--where he will have to contend with the special demands of a plethora of interest groups and of local media coverage relentlessly probing for some fresh provocation or revelation.

"The thing in New York is, it's just a daily round of 'feed the monster,' " Clinton strategist James Carville said, referring to the city's media. "You can't respond to the monster with speeches about economic policy . . . that's not what it wants."

New York state party Chairman John Marino says the shift to his state will mean that the campaign will enter "a new phase" in which the candidates will be viewed with fresh eyes, without much regard for what has gone before. "From now on the focus will be on Clinton," Marino said. "It's going to be New Hampshire revisited on a big scale."

And Tsongas and Clinton will do everything they can to make Clinton uncomfortable under Gotham's glare. Brown will not hesitate to remind New Yorkers of chapters from Clinton's past, such as his business partnership with a savings and loan operator that his state regulated, advisers say, though he will take pains to establish the relevance of such episodes.

"Voters don't care about Bill Clinton being involved with an S&L;," Michael Ford said, "unless it's connected to a broader argument about how our political system is dominated by privilege and unresponsive to the needs of ordinary people."

Tsongas advisers say they will limit the barbs fired at Clinton to what they consider substantive issues, for example, a newly released commercial that shows uneven pieces of a pie being grabbed up and warns "this is the way Bill Clinton sees the economy. He promises everybody a slice of the pie."

"Paul Tsongas doesn't make promises," the commercial says. "He's made a commitment . . . to . . . a strong, growing economy." The commercial concludes with the statement that the ballot offers a choice between "Clinton's promises and Tsongas' commitment to jobs and economic growth."

While the main focus of the ad is on economic policy, it's underlying implication, that Clinton is a man who over-promises, seems intended to remind voters of the allegations about Clinton's character.

The Delegate Tally

The delegate count according to the Associated Press, all contests to date. DEMOCRATS / 2,145 needed to win nomination Delegates Bill Clinton: 949 Paul E. Tsongas: 430 Jerry Brown: 127 Uncommitted: 422 REPUBLICANS / 1,105 needed to win nomination Delegates George Bush: 711 Patrick J. Buchanan: 46 Uncommitted: 6

Times staff writer David Lauter in Chicago contributed to this story.

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