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Clinton Aims to Draw Center With Speech at Convention

By John M. Broder
Los Angeles Times

President Clinton on Thursday accepted the renomination of his party with an appeal aimed squarely at the middle of the American electorate and a soaring vision of the nation's future - and his own place in history.

"Hope is back in America," the president proclaimed.

But Clinton's moment of triumph was sullied by the overnight resignation of his closest political adviser, Dick Morris, who abruptly left Chicago following reports that he had consorted with a high-priced Washington prostitute as recently as last week and had shared with her sensitive conversations with the president.

The Morris revelations tarnished a Democratic convention that had been meticulously scripted to present the party as the tribune of the American family and the struggling middle class.

Thus began the final campaign of a politician whose career has seen more heights and depths than any American public figure since former President Nixon.

In his speech, Clinton reprised the "bridge to the future" theme that Vice President Al Gore had introduced in his address Wednesday night. The language was designed in part to remind listeners that Bob Dole, the 73-year-old Republican nominee, had promised to serve as "a bridge" to return America to the values of its past.

"Tonight, let us resolve to build that bridge to the 21st century, to meet our challenges, protect our basic values and prepare our people for the future," Clinton said in the prepared text of his address.

"Let us build a bridge to help parents raise their children, to help young people and adults get the education and training they need, to make citizens feel safer on our streets, to help Americans succeed at home and at work, to break the cycle of poverty and dependence, to protect our environment for generations to come and to maintain our world leadership in the face of new threats and new opportunities," Clinton said.

And, in a reminder of his veto of the Republican budget plan which marked the beginning of his political resurrection last winter, Clinton vowed to block any effort to radically scale back popular government programs.

"As long as I am president, I will never allow cuts that devastate education for our children, pollute our environment, end the guarantee of health care under Medicaid or violate our duty to our parents under Medicare," Clinton said.

The until-now smooth-running White House political operation, which seemed at midweek to be coasting toward an easy re-election victory, was thrown into disarray by the Morris episode.

Officials declined to confirm the report of Morris' activities, which was carried in the Star tabloid. But the Star's story, based on an account by the woman herself, was accompanied by photographs of the two together at a Washington hotel in their bathrobes as well as by a photograph of a canceled check that Morris had signed over to her.

White House aides sought to downplay the damage Clinton would suffer, insisting that it was Clinton, and not his widely resented political guru, who was running for president.

How much lasting damage the affair might cause remains uncertain. Many convention delegates were stunned by the revelations, which seemed to crystallize the ambivalence many feel about Clinton, a brilliant candidate but an exasperating man who, as even his friends and aides say, can at once give voice to humanity's noblest sentiments and keep company with its lowest impulses.

"This could not have come at a worse time," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

While many delegates, anticipating victory in November, had overcome their doubts about Clinton's newly conservative social and fiscal policies, Clinton has not fully stilled their uneasiness about his character, his steadiness - or his choice of friends.

Morris had few friends in the White House, where most aides considered him untrustworthy, in part because of his past work for conservative Republican candidates. He feuded openly with Deputy Chief of Staff Harold M. Ickes over such policy decisions as Clinton's signing of the welfare reform bill earlier this month, which Morris supported and Ickes opposed.

White House aides said that Clinton revised his speech Thursday afternoon in the wake of the Morris affair in recognition that conventioneers had been ambushed by the news.

Press secretary Mike McCurry said that Clinton knew that the matter had been a "diversion" from the previously successful convention and included language in the final draft to "lift up the spirits" of the delegates.

While Clinton delivered the expected recitation of the achievements of his first four years in office, his focus was chiefly on his intentions and his hopes for a second term.