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Now Official, Nominees Hit Campaign Trail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton bounded out of the Chicago convention Friday for one of his trademark bus cavalcades, hitting the road in hopes of generating enough momentum and magic to carry him through to the November election.

As his 14-bus caravan rolled into this southeastern Missouri city, he was met by clusters of people holding hand-lettered signs and waving from their folding lawn chairs.

On one street corner, two men greeted the president’s passing bus with 9-foot boa constrictors draped around their necks. A child held a crude sign reading “Thanks for Saving Medicare.” One man’s message to the president: “Slick--Go Home to Arkansas.”

The bus trip picked up where Clinton’s four-day pre-convention train ride left off.

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The president, accompanied by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, is spending two days on a tour of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The president hopes to recapture some of the excitement generated by his post-convention bus trips four years ago, when he visited 53 cities in 17 states on eight separate tours.

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The rail trip produced excellent visual images, and Clinton aides are hoping to re-create them on the road. After Clinton spoke here, red, white and blue streamers were shot into the air from behind the podium as hundreds of helium-filled balloons were released.

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While Clinton’s advance staff helped generate a crowd estimated at 25,000 in Capaha Park, workers for his Republican opponent, Bob Dole, did a better job of sprinkling their “Dole-Kemp” signs along Clinton’s route into the city. Only a few “Clinton-Gore” placards were visible.

Such trips are designed more for pictures than words, and Clinton’s remarks here were not particularly memorable.

He gave an abbreviated version of his convention acceptance speech, talking for less than 15 minutes in punishing heat that caused a number of people in the crowd to faint.

He repeated his “bridge to the future” theme, focusing his remarks on the transition to the 21st century.

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“I think the question is not who is to blame, it’s what are we going to do to make America a better country and to give our children a better future,” the president said.

He stressed elements of his second-term agenda designed to appeal to families with children, such as providing more flexibility for workers to take time off to care for sick children or attend school conferences.

Lois Lyon traveled 130 miles from Rolla, Mo., to attend the rally in Cape Girardeau, which happens to be the birthplace of conservative radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

Her reason for coming was simple: “I’m a Democrat. My family are all staunch Democrats and always will be.”

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She said she had found Clinton’s convention speech inspiring and said: “If people would just listen, they’d learn a lot.”

But another member of the crowd, Cindy Maurer of Jackson, Mo., said that while she had voted for Clinton in 1992, she was not so sure this year.

“He said he wouldn’t raise taxes and he did. He said a lot of things to get elected that he hasn’t followed through on. I just have a lot of questions about some of the things he’s done,” she said.

She added that she was particularly troubled by Clinton’s response to the sexual-harassment suit filed against him by Paula Corbin Jones for an allegedly improper sexual advance when he was governor of Arkansas.

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Clinton’s lawyers have claimed that, as president, he should be immune from answering such suits until after he has left office. The courts so far have accepted those arguments.

But the episode has left Maurer uneasy. “I still have questions about that,” she said.

Clinton, not surprisingly, made no mention of the abrupt departure of his chief political strategist, Dick Morris, who resigned Thursday after reports that he had cavorted with a high-priced call girl and shared White House political secrets with her.

White House political director Doug Sosnik, accompanying the president on the bus trip, said Morris’ resignation would not affect the Clinton campaign’s fall strategy.

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“We’re all replaceable,” he said of the president’s staff.

Before leaving Chicago, Clinton addressed a cheering group of Democratic Party officials, who greeted the president with chants of “Four more years!” in a hotel ballroom.

He reminded the party workers that “this is the beginning of the campaign, not the end.” He warned against overconfidence, reminding the audience of golfers and basketball teams he has watched blow seemingly overwhelming leads.

Clinton said he awoke Friday exhausted from the train journey, his 67-minute convention speech and a round of post-speech receptions Thursday night.

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Clinton, looking weary and puffy-eyed, said he asked Vice President Gore, “Why do we have to do this bus trip?” and said that he would rather take his daughter, Chelsea, to the zoo and go to bed early.

Clinton said Gore deadpanned in reply: “Because we do not wish Sen. Dole to win this election.”

Clinton answered: “OK, when I get up tomorrow and my back hurts and I’m whining around, you remind me of that so I can be in good humor.”

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The bus trip ends tonight in Memphis, Tenn. Clinton will fly from there to Little Rock, Ark., for a day of rest Sunday. He then plans to attend traditional Labor Day kickoff rallies in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania before returning to Washington on Tuesday.


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