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Clinton and Brown Trade Charges on the Eve of New York's Primary

By Dan Balz and E.J. Dionne Jr.
The Washington Post

New York

After two weeks of high-voltage campaigning, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and former California governor Jerry Brown traded final charges Monday on the eve of a primary that could prove crucial to Clinton's candidacy.

The Democratic candidates battled through two final debates, with Clinton hammering Brown's proposed flat-tax proposal while seeking to ease doubts among New York voters about his own character, then took to the streets for last-minute appeals to an electorate that has shown displeasure with both of them.

Although there also are contests Tuesday in Wisconsin and Kansas, attention remained fixed on the big primary here in New York, where a Clinton victory would set the Democratic front-runner back on the path to the nomination and make it virtually impossible for Brown or anyone else to catch him.

An upset victory by Brown, who stormed into New York after his March 24 victory in Connecticut, could throw the Democratic contest into turmoil, possibly bringing former Massachusetts senator Paul E. Tsongas back into the race and encouraging new talk about finding an alternative to Clinton.

Clinton remains the favorite to win in New York, but voter dissatisfaction and the fact that Tsongas remains on the ballot here have added an element of uncertainty.

"If the people of New York think as much of me as I do of them, I'll win here tomorrow," Clinton said Monday afternoon before a rally on the campus of Syracuse University.

Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion, said both Clinton and Brown succeeded in making their attacks on each other stick, leading to high levels of voter dissatisfaction with both of them.

Late last week, Clinton appeared to have bounced back from a stumbling and defensive start here, and he and aides were quietly confident about his prospects. But because so many voters seemed turned off by the choice they faced, Clinton still faced difficulties in getting lukewarm supporters to the polls.

Stanley Greenberg, Clinton's polltaker, said he expected Tsongas to get over the 15 percent he needed to win delegates, but did not see him endangering Clinton, whom Greenberg said was headed for a "solid" New York victory.

Tsongas said he would announce his plans tomorrow after the primary and that his decision would depend on both his performance and Clinton's. But he did not say how well he would have to do -- or how poorly Clinton would have to fare -- for him to rejoin the race.

Clinton left New York in the afternoon, flying off to Wisconsin and Kansas for last-minute campaigning in a quest for a three-state sweep, before returning to Arkansas, where he planned to attend funeral services for retailing giant Sam Walton, who died Sunday.

Brown continued to work New York furiously with an afternoon rally upstate in Albany and then an evening rally in Brooklyn.

The two candidates began the day on a quiet note, spending nearly an hour in a serious conversation about domestic policy on a special edition of the "Donahue" show Monday morning. But during a half-hour joint appearance on NBC's "Today" show, they renewed the combat that had dominated their campaigning here.

Brown retreated on the flat tax issue, saying he "would never sign any bill that in any way jeopardized Social Security" and volunteered that he would adjust his 13 percent tax, if necessary, to assure that low- and moderate-income families pay lower taxes under his plan.

Clinton, whose campaign was jolted over the weekend by a disclosure that he had received a draft induction notice in the spring of 1969, defended himself when "Today" show host Bryant Gumbel suggested he had been less than candid with the press and public about his draft record and his use of marijuana.

"I told the truth about the marijuana issue when I was asked a direct question," Clinton said. "When I didn't, I wasn't running for president."

On the draft, he said, "I hated the Vietnam War. I didn't want to be drafted. I tried to get out of it. Then I put myself back in the draft. No one disputes those facts."