In ways subtle and blunt, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton is driving home a very specific message: He is not one of them , one of those tax-and-spend Democrats tarred and feathered so successfully by a generation of Republicans.
His method can be substantive. Campaigning in Washington state Saturday, he ticked off a series of issues, from welfare reform to taxes and trade, on which his position differs with traditional Democrats.
Or he can take a symbolic approach. Two Republicans introduced and endorsed Clinton at a Saturday rally in Spokane, Wash. When they were good-naturedly booed, the Arkansas governor made a point of hushing his fellow Democrats. "We've got to get some of those folks to vote for me or I can't win," he said.
Clinton took advantage of an informal chat before the rally with about two dozen Spokane residents to detail his goal of reforming the Democratic image.
"I know what it is like to be governed by people in Washington, D.C., that don't understand your problems," he said.
"I'm going to try to carry the West in this election partly to prove that not all Democrats are looking to Washington, D.C., and the federal government to solve all our problems."
It is no accident that Clinton has tried to reinforce his break from the Democratic mold in the West, where party affiliation has never exercised a strong tug on the hearts of voters. Registered Democrats have long outnumbered Republicans in California, for instance, but Clinton's party has lost the last six presidential contests in the state.
As he opened a three-day Western swing that brings him to Southern California today, Clinton's effort to distance himself from Democratic stereotypes came through loud and clear.
Fielding complaints from Spokane residents about increased taxes, Clinton sounded like Ross Perot when he promised that he would consider the views of voters before raising any taxes as President. He also vowed to specify where the tax income would go.
"If there are any future revenue increases, they ought to be dedicated (to specific causes), and you ought to have your chance to have your say on them before Congress votes on them," Clinton said.
Later, Clinton seemed to suggest that voters could have that say by calling Congress. But his phrasing conjured up Perot's notion of holding mass town meetings via satellite to give voters the final call on tax increases.
Consistent with his past comments, Clinton did not rule out ever advocating a tax increase, on the grounds that he has no way of knowing what the future might bring. He did note, more forthrightly than he has in the past, that he increased taxes as governor.
"Because federal aid has been cut to the states, I've raised taxes in Arkansas and been reelected four times," he said. "But we dedicated the money for education, for transportation."
Taxes are hardly the only matter where Clinton seeks to draw a distinction between himself and what has been Democratic orthodoxy. On trade, for example, he outlined his support for a U.S.-Mexico trade agreement with this explanation:
"I had an unpopular position within my own party on this, because I would have voted for the negotiations to proceed with Mexico."
He noted that many Democrats are against the proposed agreement because they fear it will result in a loss of U.S. jobs to Mexico. Clinton contended, however, that "if we don't do anything, a lot of American manufacturing jobs will continue to go to Mexico because labor is cheaper there."
While most Democrats clearly have accepted Clinton's redefinition of the Democratic Party, it remains to be seen whether the independents and Republicans he needs to win the November election also will see things his way.
At nearly every turn, Clinton is trying to persuade his audiences with the notion that traits perceived as contradictory in past elections are now accepted parts of the Democratic whole.
"I want to give you a government that represents all of America, that doesn't get out of touch," he told supporters at an open-air rally in Spokane. "One that is pro-business and pro-labor, pro-growth and pro-environment, one that believes you can be for civil rights and civil order, one that believes you can be pro-family and pro-choice."
To audiences in both Spokane and Seattle, Clinton returned to his call for "change," once using the word three times in one sentence.
But the visual image he projected may have been contradictory; standing next to the candidate of change was the ultimate congressional insider--House Speaker Thomas S. Foley of Washington, who accompanied Clinton on part of his trip through the state.
On the first day of his Western trip, Clinton continued to draw the large and curious crowds that have turned out for his appearances since he was formally awarded his party's nomination more than a week ago.
He also maintained the blistering pace he has set since then. He left Little Rock, Ark., shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday, flew to eastern Washington for the Spokane rally, then to Seattle for interviews, the open-air rally and an hourlong television appearance before his day was to end after midnight.
"I'm campaigning hard," Clinton told reporters as he left Little Rock. "I want this to be an aggressive campaign. We have a lot of the American people to reach. There's 100 days left in this election, and we've got to make the case for change."
Today, Clinton will campaign in Seattle, then fly to Ontario, Calif., where he is scheduled to appear at a picnic before spending the night in San Diego. Tentative plans for him to visit Orange County were scrapped Friday because of logistics.
On Monday, he is to deliver an address to the Urban League in San Diego before campaigning in the San Jose area and in San Francisco.