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Bush, Clinton Begin Sprint To Tuesday's Finish Lines

By Edward Walsh
The Washington Post


Fighting to hold together the coalition that has put him within striking distance of the White House, Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton swept across the nation's industrial heartland today appealing to voters to reject "the politics of denial and division and blame which the Bush administration has visited on this country for too long."

In a low-key address at the University of Toledo and a lectern-pounding, almost angry speech to a huge get-out-the-vote rally later in Detroit, Clinton wrapped himself in the mystique of President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy.

On the surface Clinton was serene and confident, but as the days before Tuesday's voting dwindle there is renewed tension within his campaign and a gnawing worry about the impact of President Bush's continuing assault on his character and trustworthiness.

"The man has no core convictions," Clinton said of Bush before a morning jog in Toledo. "This is a guy here who would literally say or do anything to get elected. And anytime you're an incumbent president and you don't have any standards, you have a chance to win. I have always thought I was the underdog."

As Clinton pressed his case Thursday, top aides in Little Rock tried to fight off impressions that the race had tightened significantly. But they spent the day nervously scrambling to purchase additional television time for a new round of ads and redrawing Clinton's weekend schedule to protect several key battleground states that he must carry to win the election.

The new ads include a tough response to a Bush ad attacking Clinton's record in Arkansas and a fresh assault on Bush's record on the economy.

Democratic and Republican strategists agreed that Texas and Florida, two states where Clinton campaigned this week, are now moving toward the president, while Georgia and North Carolina, states long on Clinton's target list, remain extremely competitive. At the same time, they said Bush's daylong visit to Ohio on Wednesday had substantially strengthened his position there and agreed that New Jersey, where Clinton held a double-digit lead before the debates, now is within a few points.

But the strategists were in sharp disagreement over the state of the race in such other key states as Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Tennessee, with Republicans saying the president put those states into the toss-up category and claiming the momentum heading into the weekend.

Clinton's pollster Stan Greenberg disputed suggestions that Clinton's lead is slipping away. "I think (the race) was closing in the first part of the week," Greenberg said. "The polling from Tuesday and Wednesday has been very steady. ... On this day, both nationally and in battleground states, we show a very steady race."

For Clinton, the next four days will be a frenzy of travel as he hopscotches back and forth through key industrial battlegrounds and several southern states still in play. The Arkansas governor hopes to boost Democratic turnout in the nation's big cities and hold on to the suburban voters who abandoned his party in the 1980s but who are disillusioned with Bush and have been attracted by Clinton's promise of fundamental economic change.

That coalition is his key to victory, and Thursday in Detroit he invoked the memory of Robert Kennedy in an appeal to his supporters to stay with him through the final brutal hours of the campaign.

"Twenty-five years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy said something we ought to all think about between now and Election Day," Clinton said. "In a very difficult, divided time, he was perhaps the last American politician until this election to try to ask people to join together across racial lines, to seize common opportunities and to tear down common problems."

He went on to quote Kennedy as saying that " `if we fail to dare, if we do not try, the next generation will harvest the fruit of our indifference' " and inherit " `a world we did not want, did not choose, but a world we could have made better.' "

The audience rocked Cobo Hall with wild cheers as Clinton repeatedly echoed John Kennedy's 1960 campaign call that "we can do better," and by the end of his speech his final words were drowned out by the roar of the crowd.