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Primaries Continue in the Midwest as Clinton and Bush Pick up Steam

By Jules Witcover
The Baltimore Sun

DETROIT

Voters in Michigan and Illinois go to the polls today in Democratic and Republican primaries that are expected to give virtual locks on their party nominations to President Bush and Gov. Bill Clinton -- unless former California Gov. Jerry Brown can further fuel the question of Clinton's electability.

Brown yesterday continued his efforts to do just that as he wound up his bid to finish at least second in Michigan and begin to elbow out former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas as Clinton's chief obstacle to the Democratic nomination.

The electability question, revived by Brown during a debate Sunday night with an acrimonious allegation that Clinton funneled state contracts to the Little Rock, Ark., law firm of his wife Hillary, continued on center stage Monday. Clinton and Brown exchanged more charges, and the former California governor accused Clinton of adopting what he called "the Nixon technique" of diversion by counterattack.

Clinton, in an early morning stop at the Busy Bee eatery in Northwest Chicago, again denied Brown's allegations and charged Brown with insensitivity to the broadened role of women in the work place. He also repeated charges that as Democratic state party chairman in California, Brown used his old law firm to oppose a state proposition limiting campaign contributions -- a position that is now a centerpiece of his own low-budget, limited-contributions campaign. The law firm was granted $178,000 by a state court but the matter remains under appeal.

At Sterling Heights, Mich., High School, Brown countered that the Arkansas governor had taken a leaf from the political handbook of former President Nixon's late mentor, Murray Chotiner. Brown said Chotiner had counseled the young Nixon never to answer charges against him, but to divert them and go on the attack with charges of his own.

Brown said he was not being critical of Mrs. Clinton, who was "a free agent" as a lawyer, but insisted that Gov. Clinton "can't stand behind his wife" in the matter. Brown denied that his charges, picked up and expanded without documentation from newspaper stories, would damage the party. It was better to raise such issues now, he said, than for Clinton to be nominated and elected and for the country "to find out too late" that he had been involved in unethical conduct in office.

Clinton sought to use his forceful but controlled defense of his wife against Brown's allegations as further proof that he is tough enough to stand up to whatever the Republicans throw at him in the fall if he is the Democratic nominee.

His performance was in sharp contrast to those of two earlier Democratic presidential nominees, whose reaction to somewhat similar situations was said to have contributed to their defeats.

In 1972, then Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, infuriated by charges of improper behavior against his wife Jane by the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader, shouted and -- some said -- wept over their unfairness. Muskie won, but not by the margin expected. The episode haunted him and he faded as a candidate.

In 1988, then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts failed to show any emotion whatever when asked in a nationally televised debate with Bush what he would do if his wife Kitty were raped and murdered. His bland reply reinforced for many voters an impression that he was a mechanical and unfeeling man.

On the Republican side Monday, President Bush attended fund-raisers in Chicago and Milwaukee while continuing to wage a battle of negative television and radio ads with his challenger, television commentator Patrick J. Buchanan, who put in a final day in Michigan.

Clinton, who organized Illinois early and has many political and personal connections there, has been a strong favorite in the state from the start. A Chicago Sun-Times weekend poll gave him 48 percent of Democrats surveyed to only 21 percent for Tsongas and 7 percent for Brown.

In Michigan, a Detroit News weekend poll produced much the same results for the top two -- 49 percent for Clinton, 18 percent for Tsongas, and 17 percent for Brown.