President Clinton made his first direct, public attack on Proposition 187 Friday, telling a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters gathered for a Democratic unity rally outside Los Angeles City Hall that the measure "is not the answer" to the state's problems with illegal immigration and urging Californians to defeat it.
And in contrast with some other states where Democratic candidates have shied away from Clinton, he was joined at the rally by nearly the entire California ticket, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Brown, who came to Los Angeles with Clinton, waving to the crowd from the top of the City Hall steps.
For weeks, while other Administration officials openly denounced the controversial ballot measure, the President himself had stopped short of a definitive statement. Late last month, for example, Clinton told a press conference that he was troubled by parts of the measure but he shied away from urging Californians to vote no.
But in recent weeks, as support for the proposition has begun to fade and as Democratic candidates here have stepped up their criticism of it, the White House stance has become stronger. Thursday night, in taped television interviews with California stations, Clinton openly opposed the proposition and Friday he took that opposition to the public, proclaiming to the crowd that "I hope to goodness you're going to beat 187."
Clinton's speech came after a day of campaigning in the Midwest and kicked off a two-day campaign swing through California on behalf of the Democratic ticket.
Clinton took turns denouncing each of the Democratic candidates' opponents. Attacking Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, Clinton said that he had "done everything I can" to try to channel federal funds to California but that "I need a partner" in the governor's office. "The governor's office is not a place for blamers, it's a place for builders," he said.
Wilson, he charged, is now "pointing the finger of blame" on immigration problems but had "helped to create the problem" as a senator by voting to create a guest-worker program for farm workers "because powerful interests wanted them to work for low wages."
Brown took Wilson to task for blaming immigrants and making cuts in education to balance the state budget.
"We are tired of having our children forgotten. We are tired of having our students forgotten," Brown said. "We need a governor who will plan for all California, not just the few."
Clinton also ridiculed the Republican Senate nominee, Rep. Mike Huffington of Santa Barbara, saying that Huffington's categorical rejection of government's ability to accomplish good makes him sound as if he is not only "running against Washington" but "running against George Washington."
The crowd hissed when Feinstein mentioned Huffington's name. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, introducing her colleague, said Feinstein is "a woman who Mike Huffington cannot hold a candle to."
"I've got four more days in an election I never thought I would be in," Feinstein said. "So I need your help in the next four days to walk that walk and talk that talk to spread the message."
Clinton, sounding hoarse, as he has much of the week but clearly enjoying his venture onto the campaign trail, laced into the Republican platform, as he has at campaign stops all week, saying that the GOP was trying to rerun the "politics of the past."
But while the partisan crowd cheered many of his remarks, the greatest enthusiasm came as Clinton attacked the immigration proposition. Indeed, much of the Democratic rally took on the air of an anti-187 forum, as speaker after speaker attacked the measure.
Careful to avoid sending the wrong message to voters who may be undecided on the measure, rally organizers had distributed hundreds of small American flags to the audience, telling them to wave them at key points. Party strategists had worried that some anti-187 demonstrations earlier, featuring Mexican flags and other symbols, would turn off undecided voters.
Clinton made a pitch to precisely those voters, saying he agrees that California has "borne an unfair burden in the cost of illegal immigration." His Administration, Clinton noted, had increased spending on the Border Patrol and on aid to California to offset some of the costs of immigration. He conceded, however, that Washington does "need to do more."
But Proposition 187 would be the wrong response, he declared. Echoing lines that opponents of the proposition have used repeatedly in recent weeks, Clinton said that the measure would "punish the children" by denying health coverage to those in the country illegally and would "turn the teachers into police officers."
Clinton advisers hope that the President's presence here and in states in the Northeast and upper Midwest, in which his popularity is relatively high, can help counter a lack of enthusiasm among party faithful that Democratic strategists fear could sink their candidates.
By contrast, Clinton generally has avoided the South and the Rocky Mountain states, where he is deeply unpopular and where his presence probably would do his party's candidates more harm than good.
In an interview with San Francisco television station KGO on Friday, Clinton said that he has been campaigning in the East, the upper Midwest and the far West this week because "I'm going where I think I can do the most good."
Earlier in the day, Clinton campaigned in Minnesota, another state where he retains a favorable image and where Democrats hope to pick up a Senate seat currently held by the GOP. Clinton turned up the volume of his attacks on Republican leaders, saying that they are "playing to the worst instincts of the American people."
Democrats in Minnesota hope for a victory from Ann Wynia, their party's Senate candidate, who is in a close race with freshman Republican Rep. Rod Grams for the seat now held by retiring Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger. Minnesota is probably the Democrats' best shot, perhaps their only one, at stealing a seat now in GOP hands. And recent polls show the race to be a virtual dead heat.
Clinton spoke on Wynia's behalf in a field house on the campus of the University of Minnesota at Duluth, praising the former majority leader of the Minnesota Legislature as "more of a doer than a talker."
In comments to reporters there, he scored GOP Chairman Haley Barbour, calling the GOP's Contract With America a fraud that promises a balanced budget and increased defense spending while lowering taxes on most Americans.
Clinton charged that the Republican plan would cost Social Security recipients $2,000 a year and "devastate" virtually every government program.
Barbour, in a series of television ads and interviews this week, has denied that his party is planning to cut Social Security or shut down the government. But he has not yet spelled out how the party would pay for its promises.
Clinton said the only way that Republicans can finance their pledges is by destroying the economy.
"Of course, there's always the possibility that Haley Barbour's right--they're just going to deliver the goodies and forget about paying for them. In which case, you go right back to the 1980s, exploding deficits, shipping our jobs overseas, putting our economy in the ditch," Clinton said.
Friday's appearance was the second time Clinton has come to Minnesota for Wynia and he is planning a third visit there Monday as he tries to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.
From Duluth, Clinton flew to Los Alamitos Naval Air Station in Orange County. On arrival, he was greeted by Feinstein, Boxer, Rep. Jane Harman and some 250 McDonnell Douglas Corp. employees and officials.
Clinton told the crowd there that the company's $1.6-billion agreement with the Chinese government to build 40 jetliners, which was signed Friday, "is a part of our ongoing effort to expand . . . and to maintain jobs in the United States."
Administration officials helped negotiate the deal, which calls for half of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and MD-90 jetliners to be built in China and the remainder in the United States.
Clinton plans to speak to the National Assn. of Realtors at the Anaheim Convention Center this morning before flying on to a Democratic campaign rally in Oakland.
* GOVERNOR'S RACE: Wilson holds Sacramento rally; Brown blasts Prop. 187. A25