As he traverses the length of politically diverse California, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton is seeking the Holy Grail that has eluded Democratic presidential nominees here for nearly 30 years--knitting together conservatives and liberals, voters of all races and ethnicities, into an electoral majority.
More and more, his effort appears to be premised on driving a wedge between the wealthy and the rest of America--and skimming over political and racial differences.
Clinton's remarks are usually directed at a fearful middle class, which, he lamented Monday in San Diego, "has been working harder for less money than they were making 10 years ago . . . playing by the rules . . . doing the right thing."
And, at every stop, he takes pains to note that most people living beneath the poverty line are working--a way of quashing Republican implications that Democrats have been too supportive of those who do not work.
"This is an election in which we have to move beyond the failed categories of political debate, beyond left and right, beyond liberal and conservative, beyond tax and spend and trickle down," he told several hundred computer workers at their company headquarters here. "We have to have a new politics that is based on hope, not fear."
Clinton's strategy is meant to counter decades of Republican success in presidential elections that is based at least in part on their ability to unite the wealthy and the middle class against the poor. The last time a Democrat won California was 1964, when the state joined in the electoral landslide for President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The Arkansas governor has been symbolically expressing his differences with past Democratic strategies by campaigning in the heart of the suburban middle class--on Sunday in Ontario, and Monday before the computer workers in Cupertino, near San Jose.
In the two days Clinton has spent in California, only one appearance--an outdoor rally Monday night in San Francisco that drew thousands--was in an urban area where Democrats have long won elections.
The Democratic nominee is still reaching out to traditional Democratic constituencies, like minorities, but with appeals that emphasize the similarities and play down the underlying tensions between different racial and political groups.
On Monday morning as he appeared before the national Urban League convention in San Diego, for example, Clinton read aloud remarks by John E. Jacob, the league's president, that called for stiffer educational requirements for the nation's youth.
"I want the heartland of America to hear this," he declared. "This is not about tax and spend. This is about progress or sink."
Clinton is drumming home his message in two ways: defending his own record before Republicans can fix a negative image in the minds of voters, and relentlessly attacking Bush as a President out of touch with the nation's concerns.
"When people in this election try to put on yesterday's broken record that sticks at the same old place in the song--tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend, tax and spend," he said, mimicking a broken record, " . . . you say, 'we got standards and we got values and we're going to change and get out of our way with all that stuff that's holding us back and dragging us down and dividing us.' "
"When they recount these things like mantras they're chanting, say, 'I don't want to hear that--we just had the three worst years of economic performance since the Depressi" Clinton said.
"I don't want to hear attacks on new ideas and new approaches when we're sinking in the ruts of the status quo.
"Change today is the order not just for people who think of themselves as liberal . . . but for people who think of themselves as conservative."
On a day when Bush was attacking him as incapable of handling the nation's foreign policy demands, Clinton took on Bush as a man disinterested in the work of domestic affairs.
"I have heard a promise that this Administration would listen to the quiet people that others don't," he said, referring to a line from Bush's acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention.
" . . . I have seen the quiet people crushed under the burden of economic policies that favor the very rich at the expense of the middle class and the working poor and the broad public interest of America."
Before his Urban League address, Clinton told reporters that he believes that the differences between races in the United States are secondary to desires to move forward.
"There is an overwhelming desire that cuts across race, income and political party to see this country work well for all the people again," he told reporters in San Diego.
The economic message delivered by Clinton is expected by his campaign to resonate loudly in California, beset not only by the national recession, but also by a deficit-ridden state government.
"There are in this state alone hundreds of thousands of defense workers now out of work, people who won the Cold War and now have been left out in the cold," Clinton told the Urban League. "High-wage workers, skilled workers, people who made the California dream a magnet that drove millions of people across the continent out of the dust bowl of Oklahoma and the farm fields of Arkansas and Mississippi."
Clinton vowed to transfer the money saved by cutbacks in the Defense Department to domestic concerns, including retraining programs for defense workers and a $50-billion annual investment in transportation and communications systems that would create a million jobs each year, according to his calculations.
"That's not about liberal and conservative," he said. "That's about the future."
The Arkansas governor took a final shot at Bush by praising the president's Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Jack Kemp, who has long been at odds with the Administration over his desire to put more emphasis on curing the ills of the inner cities.
Of Kemp, who was due to follow Clinton to the Urban League stage on Monday, the Democrat said: "He's got some pretty good ideas."
"The trouble is they only dust them off when there's a riot or some other problem," Clinton said.
The Arkansas governor leaves California this morning for a campaign trip to Chicago.
OTHER POLITICAL COVERAGE: A5, A14