Reelection Bid Brings Clinton to Northridge

Times Staff Writer

First he came to sell his economic plan. Then it was to comfort survivors of the Northridge earthquake, and once again to hail their recovery.

Now it's election time.

In what has become an annual pilgrimage to the San Fernando Valley since he entered the White House, President Clinton is due in town today as part of a two-day swing through California.

The president's schedule calls for a stop at a Northridge audio equipment manufacturer described by the White House as a "corporate good citizen" for its decision to stay put during the region's lean times and to avoid layoffs by retraining employees.

Political analysts expect Clinton to use the opportunity to reinforce his considerable support in California and to exploit his incumbency by appearing above the sniping that has beset the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

But with his visit to Harman International in Northridge, Clinton appears willing to try to steal back some of the thunder of fiery GOP contender Patrick J. Buchanan, whose rhetoric skewering rich executives and extolling common workers has lately won the commentator surprising popularity.

"Bill Clinton reads the polls as well as anybody--probably better than most--and Buchanan has been striking a chord with that [rhetoric], particularly with blue-collar workers," said political consultant Paul Clarke. "Clinton has been able to co-opt a number of Republican themes over the last few months.

"This is another smart political maneuver on the president's part," Clarke said, especially in the Valley, whose voters "can put you over the top or be the spoiler."

Analysts also point out that such populist talk has long been identified more with Democratsthan Republicans. Clinton, they say, is merely returning to his political roots.

White House aides characterized Clinton's visit to Harman as an outgrowth of his State of the Union address, in which he urged companies to be more mindful of employee welfare.

"Harman International meets the corporate responsibility challenge issued by the president in his State of the Union address: putting long-term prosperity ahead of short-term gain," said spokesman Josh Silverman.

The White House was particularly impressed by the company's retraining program, which allows workers who might otherwise be redundant to take alternative jobs within the company, Silverman said.

But observers note that the company's founder and current chief executive officer is Sidney Harman, the husband of South Bay Democratic Rep. Jane Harman and a former official in the Jimmy Carter administration. Jane Harman, a staunch supporter of Clinton on Capitol Hill, held onto her congressional seat two years ago by fewer than 1,000 votes and may face another tough reelection battle this fall.

Both the White House and Rep. Harman's office deny any political motive in the selection of Harman International as the site of the president's visit, although Jane Harman plans to fly in from Washington to be present at today's noontime event.

"She's there to support her husband," said Harman aid Dwayne Jones. The company was chosen "separate from her. It was not like, 'Let's do a political favor for Jane Harman.' "

Others are less shy about riding on the president's coattails.

Brad Sherman, a state Board of Equalization member running to replace Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Woodland Hills) in the 24th Congressional District, said he has been invited to meet with Clinton.

Despite the fact that Harman International lies a block outside the 24th Congressional District, Sherman is embracing the president's visit.

"The president of the United States looms so large that he is visible from the 24th District even if he is one block outside of it," Sherman said.

The plant actually sits in the district represented by Republican Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, who said Thursday he had not been notified of the president's visit.

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