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Clinton Signs Education Bill at Noontime Rally for Kennedy

By Susan Page

The noontime rally at Nevins Municipal Hall Thursday looked like a sort of joint rescue effort, with battered President Clinton and beleaguered Sen. Edward M. Kennedy offering praise for each other's achievements, scorn for their critics and predictions that their political fortunes were about to turn.

"Until the last few days, this had the earmarks of an unusual election where people were in danger of voting against what they're for and for what they were against because of the inordinate success of our opponents in talking things to death and confusing things," Clinton declared to the hoots and cheers of a partisan crowd that chanted, "Six more years!"

Kennedy, a liberal lion and 32-year Senate veteran, got good news Thursday with publication of a Boston Herald/WCVB-TV poll that showed him building a 10-point lead over Republican Mitt Romney.

Clinton, too, seemed bouyed by the enthusiastic receptions he received during a two-day swing to New York and Massachusetts after weeks of being avoided by some Democratic candidates in states where his popularity has sagged. And he brought more than rhetoric to the Bay State: He signed a $60 billion, five-year education bill that Kennedy had been instrumental in getting enacted into law.

In a speech held in the John F. Kennedy Gymnasium at Framingham High School, Clinton declared that the measure had passed Congress "in a bipartisan fashion for all the children of this country." A half-dozen Democratic members of Congress and a single Republican - Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont - watched as the president sat at a scarred school desk and signed the new law.

For his part, Romney discounted the idea that Clinton's appearance would make much difference. "Most Democratic candidates in the country are cutting the president's coattails into parachutes and getting as far away as they can," he said.

But Clinton's new combativeness reflected some feeling in the White House that Democratic prospects were looking a little brighter in the Nov. 8 midterm elections. Some aides say a string of foreign policy successes - the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti, the nuclear agreement with North Korea and the pullback of Iraqi troops from the Kuwaiti border - had helped bolster his standing.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll published Thursday showed the president's approval-disapproval rating at 48 percent to 43 percent, a turnaround from the 44 percent to 48 percent rating he had received just a month earlier.

Clinton's aides also said the president was determined to try to make his case on domestic policy to a skeptical public.

"Twenty-one months ago, you sent me to Washington to try to change this country," Clinton told the political rally, listing as his accomplishments efforts to cut the deficit, create jobs and fight crime. "I come here to tell you that we've still got a long way to go, but America's in better shape than it was 20 months ago."

Kennedy agreed. "When we re-elect old Kennedy to the Senate," he told the crowd, "we're going to start on 1996 to elect Bill Clinton."